The Golden Gate

The Golden Gate
Image source: Google

Rating: 4.2/5

Author: Vikram Seth

Paperback: 320 pages

Publisher: Random House Publications

Publication Date: 12 March 1986

Language: English

Genre: Verse Novel

ISBN-10: 014341920X

ISBN-13: 978-0143419204


The Golden Gate is a novel in verse composed with beautiful lyrical sonnets; inspired by Charles Johnston's translation of Eugene Onegin.

John, a young and successful engineer, finds his life boring outside his work and calls his ex-girlfriend Janet and grieves his loveless life. Janet agrees to help out John by finding him a date and advertises for the same in a local newspaper. Liz, a lawyer by profession responds to the ad. John and Liz hit it off instantly and very soon find themselves living together.

Phil, a close friend of John, is a divorcee who lives with his son and raises his voice against nuclear weapons. When Phil attends the party at Liz’ family, he finds Ed, Liz’ brother and both fall in love. Set in the nostalgic era of 1980s, The Golden Gate trails the story of a group of youth living in San Francisco, who embark on a journey of interpreting life, in search of adventure, trying to understand the meaning of love.


The Golden Gate was the first novel written by Vikram Seth. The novel is divided into thirteen chapters.

There are five main characters in The Golden Gate all of them interconnected: John Brown, his girlfriend, Elisabeth Dorati (Liz), his friend and later Liz’s husband, Phil Weiss, Liz’s Brother Ed Dorati and Janet Hayakawa, John’s friend. Besides there are two children, Phil’s son Paul, and Chuck, the son of Phil’s neighbours, the Lamonts. John is the central character and his life can be divided into three phases: his loneliness, his relationship with Liz, and his life afterwards.

The starting of the novel shows the spiritual emptiness in Brown’s life:

“One evening as he walked across

Golden Gate park, the ill judged toss

Of a red Frisbee almost brained him.

He thought, If died, who‘d be sad?

Who‘d weep? Who’d bleat? Who will be glad?

Would be anybody?”

John thereby brings forth the theme of ‘Alienation’ in the modern society. He has all of it in terms of material possessions and yet he is lonely and sad.

The book also brings forth the idea of ‘Nuclear Warfare’. In the novel, Phil gives up a promising career at the labs (the place where nuclear bombs are made),to  listen to his inner voice ,which tells him that what he is doing is ethically and morally wrong.

The other themes that the book touches upon are: the position of modern women in modern American society and homosexuality, Civil disobedience, tolerance.

Vikram Seth’s The Golden Gate comprises 594 sonnets written in iambic tetrameter and follows the fourteen line stanza pattern of Eugene Onegin. Eugene has written verses in iambic tetrameter with the usual rhyme scheme ‘aBaBccDDeFFeGG’. This form is known as the Onegin stanza.

Milestones of the Book:

  • The Golden Gate won the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award for English in 1998.

About the Author:

Born in 1952 in Calcutta, India, Vikram Seth was educated at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, Stanford University and Nanjing University.

He has travelled widely and lived in Britain, California, India and China. His first novel, The Golden Gate: A Novel in Verse (1986), describes the experiences of a group of friends living in California. His acclaimed epic of Indian life, A Suitable Boy (1993), won the WH Smith Literary Award and the Commonwealth Writers Prize (Overall Winner, Best Book). Set in India in the early 1950s, it is the story of a young girl, Lata, and her search for a husband. An Equal Music (1999) is the story of a violinist haunted by the memory of a former lover. Vikram Seth is also the author of a travel book, From Heaven Lake: Travels Through Sinkiang and Tibet (1983), an account of a journey through Tibet, China and Nepal that won the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award, and a libretto, Arion and the Dolphin: A Libretto (1994), which was performed at the English National Opera in June 1994, with music by Alec Roth. His poetry includes Mappings (1980), The Humble Administrator's Garden (1985), winner of the Commonwealth Poetry Prize (Asia), and All You Who Sleep Tonight: Poems (1990). His children's book, Beastly Tales from Here and There (1992), consists of ten stories about animals told in verse.

Vikram Seth's latest works include Two Lives (2005), a memoir of the marriage of his great uncle and aunt, and Summer Requiem (2015), a book of poems.