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updated 05/24/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/24/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

>Vikram Seth

CREATING AN INDIAN ROMEO AND JULIET

VIKRAM SETH IS A VERSATILE MAN. A 40-year-old native of Calcutta, Seth is fluent in Chinese (he's currently translating three classical Chinese poets into English) and holds a master's degree in economics from Oxford and one from Stanford. In the early '80s he gave up work on his doctorate in economics to focus on writing. Since then, Seth, who writes in English, has published a book of poetry, a travelogue about hitchhiking in China and Tibet and a 1986 novel—in verse—about San Francisco, The Golden Gate. "I feel a bit of regret that I didn't finish my Ph.D.," says Seth, who's single and lives in Delhi with his parents (a judge and a businessman). "I'm interested in it, but it's not a passion, the way writing is."

With the recent political violence in India between Hindus and Muslims, A Suitable Boy's story of a young Hindu girl torn between marrying a fellow Hindu or the Muslim boy she adores is particularly timely. "I had no conception when writing the book that things would be as they are," says Seth. "I don't normally consider myself a political person, but I feel deeply about this. India is a secular country and no place for religions to aggrandize themselves and do their countrymen down. It's tragic. I hope the book will be a force of tolerance."

Although he intended A Suitable Boy to be the first of a quintet of novels, Seth says he ended up with a first draft of close to 2,000 pages. After cutting it by a third, he tried to divide it into two or three separate books. "It didn't break in any right point," he says with a laugh, "so I was stuck with this monster."

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