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.