A Fine Balance

Mistry, Rohinton. A Fine Balance.New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001.
Mistry, Rohinton. A Fine Balance. Read by John Lee. Santa Ana, CA: Books on Tape, Inc., 2001.

Reason read: in honor of India celebrating Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s birth month as Children’s Day in November. Okay, that’s not entirely true. Originally, I chose this book to read in November because supposedly November is a good month to visit India. Since I have never been to India in November or at any time, I couldn’t really say when is the best time to visit.

I could tell I was going to like A Fine Balance when I got to this line early in the the novel, “How much gratitude for a little sherbet…how starved they seemed for ordinary kindness” (p 8). The writing is so graceful and honest. This is the story of the daily lives of four people in an unnamed seaside town in India, thrown together by a housing shortage after the government has declared a state of emergency. At the center is Dina Dalal, a widowed seamstress. As a matter of pride she will not remarry just to be supported by a man. In order to stay self sufficient she takes in borders. One such border is Manek Kohlah, a student attending college in the city. He is studying refrigeration. Ishvar Darji and Omprakash, two other borders, are tailors fleeing caste-centric brutalities in their village. There is no doubt in my mind most people find this story incredibly tragic, considering its ending. I found it sad but with a thin thread of optimism. When a once bitter character can laugh by the end of it, you know the human spirit has not been broken.

The word that comes up time and time again when describing Mistry’s work is depth. Depth of characters, depth of plot, and of human emotion. That being said, pay attention to Dina. Her transformation is the best part of the book.

Author fact: Mistry also wrote Such a Long Journey in 1991. It’s also on my list.

Favorite line, “If there was an abundance of misery in the world, there was also sufficient joy, yes – as long as one knew where to look for it” (p 588.)

Book trivia: On November 30th, 2001 A Fine Balance was chosen as an “Oprah book” for her book club. As an aside, I went to her website to see how such a book is talked about, promoted, marketed, and so on. I was surprised to see her website would have such a crappy cover shot. The image is super blurry so my guess is the file is too big. I guess I expected Oprah’s website to be just like her magazine, big and glossy.

Nancy said: not much. Just described the plot, which is surprising considering Mistry’s masterful writing. I would have thought Pearl would want to say more.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust twice. First, in the chapter called “100 Good Reads, Decade By Decade (1990)s” (p 179) and again in “Passage to India” (p 181).



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