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Rohinton Mistry’s novel of India is at once sweeping and quite intimate. In the tradition of James Clavell and others, he shows the impact of political and societal upheaval upon individuals. Moving smoothly between past and present, he shows us what has brought each of his four main characters to where their lives intersect.
Dina Dalal, a strong and intelligent widow is the center spoke of the wheel, every other story connects to hers. A life filled with loss and dashed hopes, she is not downtrodden, but persistent through events that might crush a weaker person. Ishvar and his bitter nephew Om, are tailors who live in an awful slum under primitive conditions and come to sew for Mrs. Dalal in an illegal workshop. Maneck, the son of an old school friend, is a college student who boards with her. His empathy invigorates the group and alters the dynamics. Following the four of them as they navigate the troubles and joys of life and all they meet is riveting. The author’s style flows effortlessly, with occasional flashes of poetry. Because of this, it has a quiet, but powerful impact.
Americans will find the setting strange and exotic, India being the place of technical outsourcing and half-remembered Rudyard Kipling stories. The poverty is on a level unimagined in the Western world, not only slums, but caste prejudice, beggars, forced sterilization and working conditions are all appalling elements of the story. While there is widespread police corruption and some truly evil characters, most people are just trying to survive in some very horrid situations. The reader is very much caught up in what happens and often wants to change the outcomes. This book has almost unbearable sadness, but also unforgettable characters that you will remember long after the tears have dried.
Vintage International 1995 603 pp. ISBN 1-400-3065-X