Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

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

10 comments on “A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

  1. Caroline
    January 28, 2008

    Can I just say this beautiful book is one of my most favourite ever? Thanks for the review, Jackie.

  2. marygm
    January 28, 2008

    Yes, this book is one of my favourites too. So deeply human and shows the incredible resilence of human beings. Also it has possibly the best ending ever of a book – can’t say what that is in case someone hasn’t read it.

  3. rosyb
    January 28, 2008

    I haven’t read this but I like books that show the impact of wider events upon individuals as you describe. It does sound a little bleak though. Bleak or sad would you say?

  4. sequinonsea
    January 29, 2008

    “While there is widespread police corruption and some truly evil characters, most people are just trying to survive in some very horrid situations. ”

    Really tempted by this one. Great review, Jackie. Sounds right up my street.

  5. Mhairi
    February 1, 2008

    What a wonderful description of India: “… technical outsourcing and half-remembered Rudyard Kipling stories …”!

  6. Writer Girl
    February 1, 2008

    This is one of my favourite books. I loved the prose that is breathtaking from that first line about the bloated train… a wonderful book that deserves more prizes.

  7. Leena
    February 1, 2008

    I’ve heard so many good things about this book; looks like I’m finally going to have to read it. Thanks Jackie.

    (I share Mhairi’s admiration for that descriptive phrase, by the way..!)

  8. stredella
    March 29, 2008

    Fine Balance made me hunt down Mistry’s other works. I’m always excited when others pickup a copyof Fine Balance for the first time.

  9. rekhasharma
    June 3, 2008

    your views helps the students and gives an idea about the novel.it acquents us about the themes and characters before reading the novel.
    thank you

  10. Pingback: Bookie Mee | A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

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This entry was posted on January 28, 2008 by in Entries by Jackie, Fiction in translation and tagged , , , .

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Acknowledgment

  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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