05 June 2010

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

Thoughts and Reflections:
A Fine Balance was an incredibly sad story, but I did not find it a tale of despair. I finished reading it at about 130am, unable to put it down before finishing. Despite the mistiness of sleep, I lay awake for a long while trying to make all the connections and understand the novel from every possible aspect. I don't think I succeeded and believe that each time I read this novel, something new will become apparent. The novel was packed with cultural information, some of which I gathered, much of which I very likely missed. Nonetheless, I believe this novel certainly gave a very detailed and interesting commentary of India between the 1940s and the 1980s.

My first inclination was to follow the themes and commentary of the caste system. However, though this was certainly a theme, other themes soon mingled with ideas about caste. I found the ideas regarding life, despair and hope of primary focus, whilst other themes, such as home, justice, distance, and caste, simply played into these primary themes. Everything was connected in the tale: every character, event, and village. This is both an element of hope and despair. The fine balance, in my understanding of this story, is the balance between hope an despair.

The story was heartbreaking at times. Reading about the corruption, the politics, the base cruelty, abuse and manipulation by the government of the people it is meant to protect, cultural elements and systemic problems were incredibly frustrating. As much as I have complained about the politics of my country, I still know if my family were murdered, I could seek justice through legal means. I am still able to walk about in this city and know I will not be imprisoned, my home taken from me, or my body mutilated by some fickle government policy.

I would certainly recommend this novel. My mind is still whirring with the themes and connections. I feel this review is completely unsatisfactory in portraying the events, themes, and my experience reading it. This is a novel for long discussions, to be sure. I have added it to my list of top recommendations and I believe it will be one of the few novels I will re-read in my life time.

Brief Synopsis:The story discusses a world that is changing rapidly and the people that are able to adapt and those that aren't. The novel primarily follows the lives of Dina Dalal, Maneck, Omprakesh, and Ishvar. The reader encounters many other characters throughout the novel, but mainly in how they interact, relate to, and are connected with these characters. Their lives taste success and incredible struggle. In such a chaotic time of rapid change, each of these characters battle to maintain what they deem most important: independence, family, etc. Their lives and those around them walk the fine line between hope and despair, fighting for their present and future or resigning to their fates.

The Author:
Rohinton Mistry is an incredibly talented author, tying intricate themes and lives together in this wonderfully smooth and well-written novel. He was born in Mumbai, India and received a degree in mathematics and economic from Mumbai University in 1973 before immigrating to Canada in 1975. He then began pursuing a degree in English and Philosophy from the University of Toronto. He has gone on to win a number of prestigious award for his works:Hart House literary prizes, Governor General's Award, Commonwealth Writers Price, Trillium Award, shortlisted for the Booker Prize, etc.

Points of Interest:
The Emergency: From 1975-1977 was a 21 month when Indira Gandhi, then Prime Minister, declared a state of emergence on India, allowing her to rule by decree. This entailed the suspension of elections and civil liberties. In the book, this is portrayed as a divisive and frustrating time. In my research, this event has been portrayed as extremely controversial. Rather than writing a separate novel/bog entry on the Emergency, Here is the link to the Wikipedia article, which provides a comprehensive break down of the issue.

Things I Loved About This Novel:
1) The characters and their progression through life. I loved and hated them all at times.

2) The discussion of values, life, justice, home, a changing world, and so on. I found this novel touched on so many important themes. I look forward to re-reading it and entering into discussion on these themes all over again.

3) The ending: so bitter, yet somehow sweet.


Anonymous said...


I just read your comments on A Fine Balance, a agree, a fantastic novel. I noticed we have similar taste in books looking at your top 10 so thought I'd recommend a couple for you to try if you haven't already:
Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
The left hand of God
Norwegian Wood

laxmidhar said...

I am very much interested to read this novel and my interest is due to your exciting comment and beutiful photograph of the crowds and poverty in India

emerald cove said...

we must remember that poverty is not the monopoly of any one country. Dont read the book in order to access the poverty and plight of India, read it as a motif for the various subaltern groups, riddled with varying degrees and forms of oppression, not to pity them, but to recognize their resistance.

Anonymous said...

I read this novel in I think it was
2006. It is very strange and mysterious. Sad and true and upsetting. Mistry is a genius. Such simple language yet something so profound coming through.

Shradha Shetye said...

Excellent novel by controversial writer ROHINTON MISTRY.Actually I studied it deeply as I am a student of Literature