Saturday, June 17, 2006

Hardtalking Seth

It was so good yesterday to catch Vikram Seth interviewed on the BBC's Hardtalk Extra. Seth took time out from the Hay-on-Wye literary festival to talk to Gavin Esler about his memoir/biography Two Lives and the extraordinary lives that inspired it: those of his Uncle Shanti, (a dentist who had studied in Berlin lost his right arm in combat) and his Aunty Henny (a German Jew who lost her mother and sister to the death camps).

Seth also described how supportive his parents were when he decided to quit his job with the Economist and move home to work on his novel A Suitable Boy. He planned it to be just 200-300 pages long when he began it! In the end his parents patiently put up with him for the seven years it took him to complete the book, which grew to a marathon 1,400 pages (even after cuts). An obsession to find out what happened to the characters (many of whom were based on members of his own family) compelled him to complete it. (He describes himself as lazy!) He thanked his parents for their support by buying his mum books for life, and his dad whisky for life!

Seth came across as a really nice guy ... intelligent, warm and funny. As I've said of other favourite writers, the kind of guy you'd like to spend time down the pub with.

Bibliolbibuli's ultimate accolade!

Related Post:

A Suitable Heavyweight (27/8/05)


Kak Chik said...

I read The Suitable Boy a couple of years back and it took me a while to finish. It was a challenge but it was quite worth it. India and it's post-colonnial era is always fascinating. As a matter of fact India's politics is even more interesting than Malaysia's.

sympozium said...

Got a third of the way through A Suitable Boy, but it became a chore - not blaming it on Seth, as it was very readable, but my attention strayed...must go back to it again, as I have not one, but two copies lying around...

Did enjoy Two Lives and An Equal Music though.

bibliobibuli said...

i haven't read '2 lives yet' and am looking forward to it

Read@Peace said...

Seth is a journalist's dream. Modest about his achievements - then the truly deserving ones are always modest - he's perhaps one of the few writers who remain nice to the journos who need that soundbite for survival. In fact, in India, where writers routinely get trashed and verbally thrashed, Seth's reputation remains unscathed.

'Two Lives' is a stunning piece of work. Since you haven't read it yet, I'll only say, it'll leave you shaken and stirred.

bibliobibuli said...

thanks read@peace - and it was very nice to discover your blog

i've been interviewing writers for just a few months now - before that was afraid to talk to such god-like creatures who had the power to live in my head and affect my soul - but i've been so pleasantly surprised at how friendly the writers i've met are, even though they must get pissed off sometimes answering the same questions ... i've found they seem genuinely pleased to talk to someone who appreciates their work and has swotted up on their background

i am in love with vikram seth though -how could i not be after he's written two of my favourites novels and delighted me with 'golden gate' and his poetry? - and if i've not yet read 'two lives', it's only because it is a pleasure deferred!

Read@Peace said...

Thanks Sharon for the kind words about the blog.

Most writers I find are truly appreciative if one has seriously engaged with their work. As Rana Dasgupta, author of 'Tokyo Cancelled' said to me in one of the very first interviews for my book segment "I'd rather read a bad review that has engaged with my work than a good one that has not."

Wish more critics would take words like that seriously. There are way too many back of the book write-ups passing off as reviews these days. And those grate me. Not surprised why authors get so worked up about that.

On another note, I'd like to recommend 'Shantaram' - do read it if you haven't. I've kept my copy hidden for fear of it being borrowed and never returned.

And if you do happen to be in Singapore, drop me a mail, would love to meet up with another serious book person.

bibliobibuli said...

i like that quotation very much!

okay - will buy shantaram

and yes, it would be really fun to meet up with you sometime (and if you're in KL ....)