22. ilb 07. - 17.09.2022

Vikram Seth

Portrait Vikram Seth
© Ulrich Schreiber

Vikram Seth was born in Calcutta in 1952 and grew up in India and London. His mother was the first female Chief of Justice of a state High Court and also enjoyed success as a writer with her autobiography. After completing his studies in Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford, Seth began a PhD at Stanford University but became increasingly involved with poetry and published the collection of poems entitled »Mappings« in 1980. Five more poetry collections have followed, as well as a book for children, translations of Chinese verse and a libretto. Yet it was primarily through his novels and documentary works that Seth was to become one of the most well-known figures in contemporary literature in English.
The volume of travel writing »From Heaven Lake« (1983) started as a collection of jottings the author assembled between 1980 and 1982 while doing doctoral fieldwork in China and subsequently travelling back to Delhi on foot and hitchhiking through Western China, Tibet and Nepal. Also in respect to literary works, the author then betook himself on adventurous trails and wrote his highly praised first novel, »The Golden Gate« (1986), which is similar to his poetry, in verse form and rhyme. Modeled on Pushkin’s »Eugene Onegin«, the text tells the story, in 690 sonnets, of four Californian yuppies in search of love and self-realisation. Seth ultimately achieved international fame as an author with his well over a thousand page award-winning bestseller, »A Suitable Boy« (1993), a broad family saga which unfurls into a facet-rich panorama of Indian society in the early 1950’s in the tradition of George Eliot. The author undertook research for two years in Indian cities and villages in order to anchor the plot – an Indian mother’s search for an adequate husband for her daughter – in everyday reality. Using a plethora of detail and rife with information, the novel not only tells the story of four Indian families, but also simultaneously offers a portrait of the political, social and religious conflicts which shook the country during the first years of independence.
In his most recent documentary work, »Two Lives« (2005), Seth reconstructs the love story of his great aunt and great uncle, who met in Berlin in 1931 and emigrated to London during the Nazi period. Alongside a compilation of letters and photographs, the double biography narrates an unusual love story between a German Jewish woman and an Indian man who studied dentistry in Berlin and later lost an arm while serving as an officer in the British Army in the struggle against Nazi Germany.
Seth has been honoured with many prizes, among them the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award, the Commonwealth Poetry Prize (Asia), the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, the BT Ethnic and Multicultural Media Award and a Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award. The author lives south-west of London and on the outskirts of Delhi.

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