A Review of A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

 You are never told exactly where in India this novel unfolds, but the city has the feel of Calcutta. It is fascinating to see the main character, Dina, move through disgust at the men who are working for her, tailors, lower-class individuals, to actually coming to regard them as family.
Reviewed by Leela Heard Garnett

Any fantasy images I might have had of India have certainly been destroyed, although the book is a wonderful testament to the human spirit, in the main characters and their ability to perservere in spite of daily horrors that many of us don’t even have to think about in the more affluent Western countries.

I was particularly chilled by the begging industry in India, and didn’t know that children would be mutilated in infancy by removing limbs, being blinded, and other deformities to make them more appealing as beggars. There are even “Beggarmasters” who are similar to pimps in controlling the territories they beg in and reaping profits from them, even offering protection to local businesses. The caste system, even when officially abolished by the governement, continues to keep people down in much the same way African-Americans were persecuted after slavery was abolished and they were trying to make their way in a society where many still saw them as less than human.

You are never told exactly where in India this novel unfolds, but the city has the feel of Calcutta. It is fascinating to see the main character, Dina, move through disgust at the men who are working for her, tailors, lower-class individuals, to actually coming to regard them as
family. The young student, Maneck, is a study in a sensitive young man who cannot understand the cruelty and narrow-mindedness of his world. Om and Ishvar, the tailors, are constantly amazing us with their undauntedness, inventiveness, and ability to be kind when all around them people are theiving and trying to get what they can from one another. There are other chilling characters in the book, even a sociopathic hair-collector who escapes the police by becoming a holy man.

Rohinton Mistry was born in Bombay and now lives in Canada. A Fine Balance is his second novel, and would certainly seem to have autobiographical tinges. His writing style is consise yet intensely descriptive, capturing
the colors and smells of India as well as any photograph. My sense is that he is the student, Maneck, feeling shock and outrage of the injustice of caste systems, poverty, religious hatred, and the everyday tragedies and
pathos of life on earth. In the characterization of Maneck one sees the difficulty of being a young person of great emotional sensitivity, especially to the feelings and thoughts of others around you. Yet he sees the beauty in people, and he is able to look beyond the superficial behavior. There is much sarcasm in the book, displayed in the verbal parodies of Dina, widowed tragically after only three years of marriage, an unusual one in those days being a love choice, rather than an arranged marriage, which the strongwilled, independent-minded Dina refused. She also refused to be controlled by her older brother, so much of the book revolves around her attempts to keep her apartment and continue to live on her own, without asking for her brother’s financial help. Dina hides behind her sarcasm a soft heart, as well as an egalitarian one. As a woman in Indian society, she knows well what it feels like to be treated like a second-class citizen. To Maneck’s credit, he is not fooled by her verbal knifethrusts, and, in his true insight into her character, he is able to help her open up her heart to Om and Ishvar, who do their own verbal parodying back and forth, both with each other and with her.

Another interesting detail in the book is the interplay between Hindus and Moslems, and, in the midst of a very disturbing, brutal, and oppressive government State of Emergency
proclamation, forced sterilizations, labor camps, and wholesale killing, one can see the triumph of the human spirit as individuals come to know and love one another as fellow human beings. A Fine Balance is a wonderful though disturbing read.

For more information about A Fine Balance or to purchase a copy at a 20% discount, visit: A Fine Balance

About the Reviewer: Leela Heard Garnett has been in practice as a Homeopath for the last 13 years. She combines her background in music, psychology, and yoga practice to individualize her practice. She also plays guitar, and is a singer/songwriter. Her homeopathy practice, QUANTUM HOMEOPATHY, is supported by her web site: Vibrational Frequencies.

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