This interesting first novel tackles several long journeys -- India's transformation from the raj to a brawling, corrupt, mismanaged, constantly at-war democracy under Indira Gandhi; Bombay resident Gustad Noble's economic decline from a kind of family prominence and prosperity under the Brits; and, most directly, Noble's rise in understanding, breadth of spirit, friendship, and accommodation to what India has become, warts and all.
Readers who delight in plot development may be disappointed. There are plots and subplots of sorts in this book -- will Noble's son reject a shot at an engineering degree? will his daughter regain her health? will a former neighbor, now in New Delhi, be found out as a good guy or a bad guy? will a prized homage to spirituality survive the wrecker's ball? will the bank manager learn the truth about some misguided deposits and spill the beans? will the simpleton get the, uh, girl? -- but, to me at least, these stories appear and drift away without careful crafting or much urgency in the telling. Rather, Mistry uses his plot lines more as opportunities to describe modern Indian society, in its complexity, and Noble's passage through it.
Mistry's central characters are full, interesting, and idiosyncratic. His minor characters -- the politically active prostitutes, the apartment dweller practicing the black arts, the bureaucrats and politicians, the speedtalking simpleton -- are persons we have seen before. Excellent political satire sometimes veers toward cartoons. Still, sentence by sentence, Mistry writes well and with sensitivity to his characters' inner lives.
This is not world-class fiction, but it is a good read, especially for persons with an international bent who are not put off by detail.