June 7, 2008

A Fine Balance: Review

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If you're a regular reader of my blog, you might have noticed that I haven't done a review in a while. That's because I've been tackling Rohinton Mistry's massive novel A Fine Balance.

I can't begin to explain this novel. It's about love, injustice, pain, kindness, violence and compassion. This book has left an imprint on my mind that I don't think will wear off. I still keep thinking I have to go back to the book to see how Dina is doing and then realize that there is no more.

Most of the novel occurs during the Emergency of 1975 in India. The cities have become overflowing with the poor of India seeking work and shelter. Two lower caste tailors are among the masses: Ishvar and Om. They've come to make some money to open their own business back in their village. Terrible things have happened to them but the worst is yet to come.

Maneck is a somewhat spoiled son of a shopkeeper, sent to the city to get an education. He is unprepared for the inhumanity of the city.

Dina Dalal, a lonely widow, is determined to make a life for herself without the heavy-handed help of her brother. She's built a wall around her heart, believing she should keep people at a distance as a form of self-preservation. However, the wall starts to come down after she hires the two tailors and rents out a room to Maneck. Slowly, they become a family that just keeps on expanding.

I'm amazed at Mistry's talent. These people are living and breathing, not just characters. They have depth. Dina is a tough cookie but she is filled with fear and doubt. Her one liners made me laugh out loud. Ishvar is such an optimist, the poor old guy. Om is defiant. And Maneck a mix of all three. He's got such a tender heart. As the book progressed, I had to put it down several times. I didn't think I could go on reading, as awful thing after awful thing happened to these good people. But I couldn't leave them alone.

This is not a happy book. There aren't any answers and no happy endings, but that can be what life is, especially in a time and place where only the corrupt survive. Still, there are glimpses that caring and compassion exist, as one character puts it "a fine balance between hope and despair."

Although it maybe hard to read at times, I highly recommend that you read this book.

11 comments :

  1. Excellent review Christina! No, this is not a happy book, but an important book, IMO. I loved it! Not for the injustice and dark picture it paints, although they are improtant. It's becasue Rohinton Mistry is a great artist with his words! I read this book quite a few years ago and it has stuck with me!

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  2. I read this a few years ago but it's really stuck in my mind as it's an outstanding book. Not the happiest story in the world but one well worth taking the time to read.

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  3. He's got such a tender heart. As the book progressed, I had to put it down several times. I didn't think I could go on reading, as awful thing after awful thing happened to these good people.

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  4. I have heard absolutely nothing but wonderful, memorable reviews of this book. I do have it on my shelves, and I'm longing for something to suck me in and really affect me, so maybe this one is just the ticket!

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  5. You had the exact reaction I had after reading it.

    I didn't realize unil I was done how much I liked it, because the horrible horrible things that happen make it difficult to read, but as I digested it and thought on it, I liked it more and more. Life is so much your attitude.

    I'm glad you liked it. It is one of my favorite books.

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  6. So some reason I always assume I've read a Mistry book, so I don't feel the need to rush out and read him. But I've not read this one, I've not read Family Matters, in fact, I haven't read anything by him. Bizarre. Maybe I'll start with this one.

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  7. Thanks guys!

    John- You should add it to your challenge list. It's really amazing.

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  8. Great review! I read this one last year and it can still have the power to invoke so many feelings in me. A hard read but I think an important one.

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  9. You had my exact same reaction when I read this book a few months ago. Great book, so sad. Hard to read!!

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  10. Hi I think this book is the saddest I have ever read, such cruelty and brutality from those in charge and so corrupt. A novel I know, but I have to believe that no-one could write such a story without there being some strain of truth, how do people keep on going in life with such tragedy following them. Pat

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