Study Guide

Vikram Seth

Vikram Seth Biography

Biography (World Poets and Poetry)

Vikram Seth was born in Calcutta, India, in 1952, the oldest of three children. His father, Prem Seth, was a shoe company executive and his mother, Laila Seth, served as a judge. Seth left India to study at Oxford University in England, earning degrees in philosophy, economics, and politics. He enrolled at Stanford University in California, intending to complete a Ph.D. in economics. While at Stanford, Seth was a Wallace Stegner Fellow in creative writing. He wrote the poems collected in Mappings during this time. From 1980 to 1982, Seth was in China for two years of travel and economic research. While there, he studied classical Chinese poetry and language at Nanjing University. He wrote an account of a hitchhiking journey to India during this time, published as From Heaven Lake.

Seth’s works present a variety of subjects based on his experiences and travels. The poetry collections The Humble Administrator’s Garden and All You Who Sleep Tonight (1990) merge Chinese, Indian, and Californian influences; From Heaven Lake details the hitchhiking trip through Nepal and Tibet that Seth took while a student in China; and The Golden Gate is about young professionals in San Francisco, searching for love and identity.

Translation has played an important part in Seth’s life, reflecting the multicultural sources of his material. His earliest book of poetry includes works translated from Chinese...

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Vikram Seth Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Vikram Seth (sayt) was born in Calcutta (now Kolkata) in the Indian state of West Bengal. His family moved around a lot and much of his early life was spent at boarding schools. His father was a shoe company executive, and his mother became a judge on the Delhi High Court. He has a younger brother, Shantum, and a younger sister, Aradhana.

Seth attended Welham Boys School and the Doon School, both in Dehradun, and in those years he has said he felt lonely and isolated. He went on to Tonbridge School in Kent, England, and then to the philosophy, politics, and economics program at Corpus Christi College, Oxford. He spent the period from 1975 to 1986 studying for a Ph.D. at Stanford University. He also received a Wallace Stegner Fellowship in Creative Writing (1977-1978) and worked with the Stanford poet Timothy Steele, whose influence led him to write traditional verse with formal rhyme and meters.

Seth left California to do field research in China from 1980 to1982, gathering material for a doctoral dissertation that he never wrote. However, the remarkable feat of learning Mandarin Chinese in six months enabled him to translate Chinese poetry and to write the superb travel memoir From Heaven Lake: Travels Through Sinkiang and Tibet (1983). The memoir describes his hitchhiking tour across the Himalayas and inspired some riveting passages, especially his account of the funeral ceremony near the Sera monastery in Lhasa. Seth witnessed human corpses being minced and crushed on a rock, with the human mash mixed with barley meal and the skulls pulverized by rocks before it was all blessed by a monk and...

(The entire section is 665 words.)

Vikram Seth Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Despite their broad differences in settings and subjects, Vikram Seth’s novels The Golden Gate, A Suitable Boy, and An Unequal Music share a gratifying storytelling genius. Moreover, in the twists and turns of their plots they seldom fail to achieve credibility, and their language is always a pleasure.

Vikram Seth Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Vikram Seth (sayt) is a versatile writer who is at ease in a variety of genres. He has made a place for himself as an Indian writing in the English language. Seth was born in Calcutta, India, in 1952. He left India to study at Oxford University in England, where he earned degrees in philosophy, economics, and politics. He then enrolled at Stanford University for advanced study in economics. While at Stanford, Seth was a Wallace Stegner Fellow in creative writing. He wrote the poetry collected in Mappings during this time.

From 1980 to 1982, Seth went to China for economic research and to travel. He studied classical Chinese poetry and language at Nanjing University. His account of a hitchhiking journey from China through Tibet to India was published as From Heaven Lake, which won the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award in 1983.

Returning to California, Seth published several books of poetry. The Humble Administrator’s Garden, which won the Commonwealth Poetry Prize, is divided into three sections that identify their influences, Chinese, Indian, and Californian. The Golden Gate: A Novel in Verse was widely reviewed and critically well received. It established Seth’s reputation as a poet and popular writer. The novel is a 307-page series of nearly six hundred sonnets of iambic tetrameter, loosely modeled on Russian poet Alexander Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin (1825-1832). The narrative is driven by the lives and entanglements of its characters. Each character is part of a subculture of San Francisco life, and through them Seth demonstrates his thorough familiarity with his setting, San Francisco in the 1980’s. The Golden Gate won the Quality Paperback Book Club New Voice Award and the Commonwealth Poetry Prize in 1986.

After the publication of The Golden Gate, Seth returned to India to live with his family and work on his major epic, A...

(The entire section is 792 words.)