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Seth bags a million and more

London, July 17: Time Warner Books has paid an estimated £1.3-million advance for a memoir by Vikram Seth, award winning author of the best-selling novel A Suitable Boy, after an auction involving 10 publishing houses.

The advance is believed to be the largest paid for a literary, non-fiction title.

The deal for Two Lives was secured by Seth’s literary agent Giles Gordon of Curtis Brown after five shortlisted publishers bid for the work on the basis of a proposal and a presentation by Seth. They did so without seeing the manuscript and the book is not due to be published until autumn 2005.

Time Warner’s imprint Little, Brown outbid Orion, publisher of A Suitable Boy, and Penguin, the underbidder, which was rumoured to have offered over £1 million.

Richard Beswick, Little, Brown’s publishing director, said it was not so unusual to bid for a work without seeing even a draft manuscript. “Not for a writer of Vikram’s stature,” he said. “He brings warmth, vitality and a profound, enriching humanity to all his writing.”

The deal was secured on the reputation of A Suitable Boy, a 1,400-page love story set in post-Independence India, recently chosen as one of the BBC’s Hundred Great Novels, which has sold a million copies worldwide.

Two Lives tells the remarkable story of his great uncle, Shanti, an Indian, and aunt Henny, a German Jew, who met in pre-war Germany as Hitler came to power, and eventually escaped to England where Seth lived with them during his adolescence.

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