on 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.
on 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.
on 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.
By the end of the story, by the time you have lived and breathed the rarified air of the high country, sweltered in the heat and humidity of the slums; by the time you have been gobsmacked by the brutality and utter ruthlessness of those in power and how the machinery of state down to the lowliest of bureaucrats and those on the outside of that level who still try to worm a living out of the desperation of the poor and oppressed; by the time you have felt the desperation of Dinabai, Ishvar, Omprakash and Maneck, you will be sobered, challenged, and perhaps, like me, stunned by the trials of the characters Mistry has depicted before your eyes.
The blurb on the back cover of my copy is, for once, not hyperbole, and gives a factual account of the contents;
“Set against the emergency measures imposed by Indira Gandhi in the mid-1970s, the novel follows the lives of four unlikely people as they struggle “to maintain a fine balance between hope and despair.”…
A Fine Balance is a warning about the human terrors that await a society without compassion. It is also, at the same time, a testimony to the enduring greatness of the human spirit.”
on 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.
on June 26, 2011
I began this book having no clue what to expect. I grew up very hick, and all I knew of the world was what I saw in the BBC. I married and Indian woman, and wanted to learn a bit of her culture through fiction first. I began reading it, and although it was interesting, it didn't grab me. After the scene where Narayan is tortured, I put it down. I found Mistry's description far too real, and that scene literally hurt me. Then I went to India. Seeing how people lived, and hearing stories about what life really was during The Emergency made me want to start reading the book again. Experiencing the culture, and seeing the horrors and deformities some people have to live with opened my eyes to the world. So I picked up the book and made my way through it, and I am so glad I did. I felt like I knew Om and Ishvar when it was all over, and I envied how they could continue to enjoy life while hell often rained down on them. To those of you who hated it, or found it depressing, I wish I could borrow your rose colored glasses, for this was real life in India in 1976. These things happened to real people! Deal with it! This book made me realize that some of the things that depress me aren't that bad. In closing, I have to say this; the people of India (that I met) are much like Om and Ishvar. Many have seen and experienced things that you can't imagine, yet they are so happy, so kind, and so alive!
To read Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance, a 1995 Giller winner, is akin to reading Shakespeare's Titus. Beyond a tragedy, Titus is what my husband has come to call a catastrophe. And in many ways Mistry's A Fine Balance follows in that tradition. Carrying that classical form of tragedy, Mistry also marries the epic throughout his story, so that one very much feels part of an odyssey, complete with storms, shipwrecks, exile, monsters, betrayals and retribution.
It is not an easy read. Relentless, unforgiving, Mistry writes a complex tale that entwines the lives of two tailors in search of a better life, a woman struggling to gain independence, and a student seeking fulfillment. There is a host of subsidiary characters who walk on and off stage like the necessary and colourful characters of any Shakespearean play, dancing through the narrative like a counterpoint. And as a backdrop for all this Mistry, who now calls Canada home, writes of his native India with all the noise, squalor, divisions and desperation of the common people.
His characters are fully realized, lifting off the page with tenderness and sometimes terrifying reality. They struggle with the barriers of caste, religion and wealth. They confront demons within themselves and within their neighbours, friends and family. Just when you think everything will be okay, that there will be some redemption, some small hope, Mistry excises hope and leaves you weeping.
For the most part the language is very spare and conversational. There are a few moments of prose wandering into the purple, but they are rare. Point of view tends to wander from time to time, so that a very tight, character-oriented focus dissolves into an omniscient view; these shifts were not enough to disturb the overall arc of the story, and instead imbued the voice of the traditional storyteller, rather than detracting.
If you have never read any of Rohinton Mistry's work, I recommend you do. While certainly A Fine Balance, is not a story I would recommend for a cheery, uplifting bit of escape, it is very much a story that will haunt you and linger long after the telling.
on March 1, 2007
This book is a great read, and not only offers insight into the realm of human suffering, but provides a masterpiece of interwoven plots that span through generations of people in India in tumultuous times. It isn't an 'upbeat' book, but one that keeps you suspended in hope that things will get better for the bleak situations these people find themselves in. It's very easy to become attached to these multi-dimensional characters as you follow the course of their lives. The author creates an incredibly vivid description of dire circumstances, in a very real way. I read this book years ago and I can still imagine the feel and taste of the dust in the quarry where the labourers struggled under the oppressive loads of rock, and hopelessness. I didn't find this book depressing, but a bit emotionally heavy; it takes you on a journey and makes you examine the human condition. I think that people who don't know much about the third world ought to consider this 'other' perspective and experience of life. Though this book will break your heart, at least for the more hearty, culture-interested lot of readers, this book will keep you wanting to turn the next page to find out what happens next. I lent this book to relatives who were never interested in Indian culture and history, and they absolutely loved it and couldn't put it down.
on February 26, 2010
A Fine Balance is a book that will stay in my memory forever. I loaned out my first copy and never got it back so I have gotten a second copy and am reading the book again. The writing is excellent and the storytelling is perfect. But these are not the reasons I love the book so much.
What compelled me to read on to the end was to see the triumph of the human ability to love in spite of prejudices that run so deep that thousands of people have died in wars waged to continue prejudice. I also could hardly fathom the degree of suffering that goes into survival for those in the cycle of poverty.
This book is a love story, but not the run of the mill kind. This book is a love story of persons of differing class being willing to put their own life and happiness on the line for someone worse off than themselves. And the love of those with absolutely nothing to give is counted for something, for everything.
on April 5, 2010
I read this book many years ago, but still can't get it out of my mind. It is staggeringly powerful and one of the finest novels I've ever had the pleasure of reading. I've since read all of Mistry's works, but A Fine Balance is unsurpassed.
on June 14, 2003
Mistry's powerful epic novel relates the story of a widow, two tailors, and a student who are thrown together and struggle to survive under an increasingly oppressive regime. Set mostly in Bombay (although the city is never named), the protagonists endure the effects of the 1975 "state of emergency" declared by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (likewise never named) after the nation's high court convicted her of manipulating the previous election and ordered her to vacate her position. During this period, Gandhi's son, Sanjay, coordinated and fine-tuned India's notorious corruption, razed slum dwellings with disregard for their inhabitants, and initiated an infamous program of forced sterilization. These political and social cataclysms provide the backdrop for the characters' hopes and miseries. (Readers might find it useful to know that Mistry was born, raised, and educated in Bombay and, at the age of 23, emigrated to Toronto a month after the state of emergency was declared.)
The widow Dina hires Om and his uncle Ishvar to work in her home sewing piecework for export and accepts a student, Maneck, as a boarder. She learns quickly that she must balance her own well-earned privacy with her loneliness and the necessity for discipline with the need for money to pay the rent. One of Mistry's most remarkable and subtle accomplishments is the gradual conversion of the claustrophobic apartment from an uninviting place of employment and residence to a hospitable refuge from the miserable outside world.
Although Mistry has an almost journalistic (yet occasionally florid) narrative style all his own, the ghosts of Dickens and Tolstoy pervade the construction of the novel. While the novel's grim realism and certain plot elements recall "Anna Karenina," Dickens's influence is perceptible in the use of melodrama and happenstance, in the details of urban bustle and squalor, and--most of all--in the supporting cast, a motley bunch of ragamuffins and brutes who transcend their own caricatures at surprising and pivotal moments. Of special note is the Beggarmaster, who manages to be simultaneously nefarious and endearing. You won't be able to decide whether you love him or hate him.
Mistry has been faulted for his use of "unbelievable" coincidences as a plot device. Although the individual experiences endured by his characters are realistic enough, the argument goes, the fact that every character endures every possible travesty and seems to be always in the wrong place at the wrong time stretches plausibility. Likewise, people are constantly running into each other in a city of millions. (To a New Yorker like myself, this doesn't seem all that far-fetched.) Yet, in the guise of Mr. Valmik, Mistry himself fully confronts this charge and flaunts it as a theme for his novel. A lawyer, proofreader, and sloganeer who randomly intrudes as a calm authorial voice, Valmik comments that "our lives are but a sequence of accidents--a clanking chain of chance events." Mistry's novel intentionally violates the strict requirements of American realism; indeed, his fiction is a hybrid that seems appropriate to India: Victorian melodrama meets twentieth-century naturalism.
I am surprised by the number of readers who found the book too depressing to bear. Given the poverty and strife endured by India's lower classes, what others found hopelessly gloomy seemed to me utterly honest. Certainly (by American standards especially) the fates of many of the characters are horrifying, but Mistry balances the misery with just enough humor and warmth; even at the end (with one notable exception) the human spirit perseveres. Or, to quote Mr. Valmik again, "There is always hope--hope enough to balance our despair."