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Vikram Seth

Vikram Seth is arguably an odd writer to figure in this series of outstanding British prose writers of the last century. In the first place he is Indian and he did not stay on in England after his education, unlike Naipaul, an Indian who grew up in Trinidad but has since lived in Britain. Whereas Naipaul settled down in England after his undergraduate days at University College in Oxford, Seth (who was at Corpus Christi College) went on to America for graduate studies in economics, did field work in China, and finally returned to India to settle down.

Secondly, while I have not excluded books that deal with the colonies, the others I have looked at are concerned with the colonial or post-colonial experience, and Britishers figure largely as protagonists. Seth’s best novel, on the other hand, A Suitable Boy, is emphatically about Indians in the period after independence. So, brilliant though it is, that alone would not have been reason enough to include him here. And then, his first novel, The Golden Gate, was not only set in San Francisco in California, the opposite end of the English speaking spectrum from England, it was also written in verse. Besides, of his major prose works of non-fiction, one is a travelogue about China, and the other an account of his great-uncle and his German Jewish wife.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

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