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A Fine Balance [Paperback]

Rohinton Mistry , Pico Iyer
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (166 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Oct. 25 2002
Set against the emergency measures imposed by Indira Gandhi in the mid-1970s, A Fine Balance follows the lives of four unlikely people as they struggle “to maintain a fine balance between hope and despair.” Originally published in 1995, A Fine Balance is both a warning about the human terrors that await a society without compassion and a testimony to the enduring greatness of the human spirit.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

The setting of Mistry's quietly magnificent second novel (after the acclaimed Such a Long Journey) is India in 1975-76, when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, defying a court order calling for her resignation, declares a state of emergency and imprisons the parliamentary opposition as well as thousands of students, teachers, trade unionists and journalists. These events, along with the government's forced sterilization campaign, serve as backdrop for an intricate tale of four ordinary people struggling to survive. Naive college student Maneck Kohlah, whose parents' general store is failing, rents a room in the house of Dina Dalal, a 40-ish widowed seamstress. Dina acquires two additional boarders: hapless but enterprising itinerant tailor Ishvar Darji and his nephew Omprakash, whose father, a village untouchable, was murdered as punishment for crossing caste boundaries. With great empathy and wit, the Bombay-born, Toronto-based Mistry evokes the daily heroism of India's working poor, who must cope with corruption, social anarchy and bureaucratic absurdities. Though the sprawling, chatty narrative risks becoming as unwieldy as the lives it so vibrantly depicts, Mistry combines an openness to India's infinite sensory detail with a Dickensian rendering of the effects of poverty, caste, envy, superstition,corruption and bigotry. His vast, wonderfully precise canvas poses, but cannot answer, the riddle of how to transform a corrupt, ailing society into a healthy one.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

In mid-1970s urban India-a chaos of wretchedness on the streets and slogans in the offices-a chain of circumstances tosses four varied individuals together in one small flat. Stubbornly independent Dina, widowed early, takes in Maneck, the college-aged son of a more prosperous childhood friend and, more reluctantly, Ishvar and Om, uncle and nephew tailors fleeing low-caste origins and astonishing hardships. The reader first learns the characters' separate, compelling histories of brief joys and abiding sorrows, then watches as barriers of class, suspicion, and politeness are gradually dissolved. Even more affecting than Mistry's depictions of squalor and grotesque injustice is his study of friendships emerging unexpectedly, naturally. The novel's coda is cruel and heart-wrenching but deeply honest. This unforgettable book from the author of Such a Long Journey (LJ 4/15/91) is highly recommended.
Janet Ingraham, Worthington P.L., Ohio
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Most helpful customer reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A novel for our times June 22 2003
Rohinton Mistry is a gifted writer. With A Fine Balance he proves he can writer about the human soul and social condition with the same love for both aspects of life. Moreover, there aren't many writers around there who can keep readers' attention for more than 600 pages. In 'A Fine Balance' there is something going on in every chapter, and from time to time, a new characters pops up, and he/she is as well developed as those who are presented at page one.
In my opinion, 'Balance' is, among other things, about the social condition overcoming the human codition. Not only are the main characters struggling to survive, but they also need to fight in order not to lose their human condition, and become animals. And, believe me, in their times and place, it was not an easy thing. The book also succeeds when shows how politics interferes in everybody's lives --even in the one who are not interested in that.
'A Fine Balance' is a great book and a wonderful read. But I something weird happened to me when reading it. On one hand I wanted to read it as much as I could, all the time, on the other, once I put it down, I wasn't very excited to get back to it again, but once I got I would read 30, 40 pages in a row. This thing had never happened to me. Maybe because I was scared to find out that no matter how bad life is, it can always get worse. In the book when you think that the characters' lives are bad and there is nothing else to happen to them, think again...
Mistry has written a book for our times. You may not like it, or even understand, but it is impossible to finish it and still think in the same way about life, about being a human being.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars 1,000 pages of MISERY Sept. 17 2009
By CyGrrl
Picked this book up initially because I wanted to get a taste of India... SOLID WRITING peaked my interest and I was soon captivated by the characters. But it started to get a little depressing...I had been warned, "oh don't read that, it only gets worse". Pshw! I figured I could handle it... This is unquestionably THE MOST DEPRESSING BOOK EVER! I was SO ANGRY with the author when I finished reading that I wanted to throw the book at the wall and call him up to tell him how upset I was... But over time, no other story/characters have ever HAUNTED me like this.
Don't let the size of the book deter you... THIS IS A MASTERPIECE and worth the read, but its still the most disturbing book I've ever encountered. This is India.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An antidote to thinking everything will work out June 15 2003
As I came closer and closer to the end of this book I read slower and slower. The four main characters, Dina, Maneck, Om and Ishvar had a hold on me and I didn't want them to let go. I wanted Dina to be happy, Om to get married, Ishvar and Dina to build on their growing friendship, and Maneck to do well in school and work. But, things don't always work out. In this book, it seems nothing works out. Four people lost at the bottom of a corrupt society and dysfunctional government didn't have a chance.
A Fine Balance reads well. It has the feel of a 19th century family novel, Tolstoy without the sermon. Get a good glass of wine (or a case), a comfortable chair, and enjoy a good book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Finely wrought, finely honed May 31 2013
Review of A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry,

Review by Don Doell

Sadly, I must admit that this book should be considered a classic. Although the plot, characterization and writing all contribute to an easy, enjoyable read, the events of this story caused me to shudder, not at the inventiveness of the author at creating such horrific acts, but rather at the inhumanity of man. Mistry has given a taste of India of the 1970’s that will not soon be forgotten.
This fictional work is a tour de force, a novel to change hearts and minds. Mistry uses the history of the period as a backdrop to the quiet lives of desperation of the lives of the lower classes and castes of Indian society. Mistry masterfully weaves the intertwining stories of the primary and secondary characters of this distopic, though realistic vision of India. The corruption of local and national politics, the power of the upper castes and their disdain for the lower, the different regions of north and central India, the subtleties of how life is lived by people struggling to maintain a certain level of success and privilege and the complexities of ordinary people dealing with the life that has befallen them, all of this and more are shaped, molded, carved and hammered into your consciousness by the end of this magisterial work.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A touching book May 23 2002
I was sitting in my foreign policy of India class and my teacher started discussing about the lives of people in the untouchable castes; he stated that most of them end up going into the leather and tanning business...and I thought "yeah thats Omprakash and Ishvar said"...
This is what "A Fine Balance" will do to you, the characters will become real to you.
Each main character and their complicated relations with one another is well developed in this approxiamately six hundred page book. Even the peripherial characters become accessible in this book. They become your friends and you end up wanting the best for all of them, but Mistry is too much of a realist to settle for happily ever endings.
Mistry gives a very frank account of life during the emergency in India and all the misfortunes that happened during that time. Instead of sparing readers of reality, he illustrates what happened to many people in India during that time. Castration, deaths and political corruption were typical of India during the emergency. Mistry attempts to make this historical account more alive and touching by using characters in his story to demonstrate how horrific life was during this time...and he succeeds.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing story
The book describes life in India in the Indira Ghandi years. it is stark and so real that I sometimes found it difficult to read because of the inhumanity of people towards each... Read more
Published 19 days ago by Cy Charney
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 22 days ago by MAYSA
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
The best book I've ever read.
Published 1 month ago by J.L. Scharf
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
I enjoyed this book & getting to know the characters well.
Published 2 months ago by Mrs. Jennifer L. Poole
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing story
This is such an amazing book, I have recommended it plenty of times for friends and this copy will be a gift, read and re-read!
Published 5 months ago by Tom P.
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic story based on historical facts. this author is awesome
this story touched me so much , it stayed withme long after the last page. The detail in the environment was palpable. the cadte system in India so unfair. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Susan Shepherd
5.0 out of 5 stars Splendid, heartwarming and heartbreaking novel
Was compelled to continue reading to find out what eventually happened to Om, his friend and his uncle. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Philippe Achkar
5.0 out of 5 stars An Important Contrast
For those who fear becoming blaze about the hard-won rights and vast priviledges available to North Americans, this is the book for you. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Eleanor Cowan
5.0 out of 5 stars Exellent
What an amazing book. I highly recommend. No happy ending here. The characters are all robbed of their dreams and the book ends sadly for all involved. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Jan
5.0 out of 5 stars Do not read if you are depressed
In short, this is the most powerful book I have read. The characters become real and they go through so much misery that your heart breaks for them. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Christine
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