A Fine Balance
Mistry (Rohinton)
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Amazon.co.uk Review

  1. In 1975, in an unidentified Indian city, Mrs Dina Dalal, a financially pressed Parsi widow in her early 40s sets up a sweatshop of sorts in her ramshackle apartment. Determined to remain financially independent and to avoid a second marriage, she takes in a boarder and two Hindu tailors to sew dresses for an export company. As the four share their stories, then meals, then living space, human kinship prevails and the four become a kind of family, despite the lines of caste, class and religion. When tragedy strikes, their cherished, newfound stability is threatened, and each character must face a difficult choice in trying to salvage their relationships.
Amazon Customer Review (Positive)
  1. This is a truly great book. It chronicles the story of four individuals from very different sectors of the Indian Caste system.
  2. Not only does it accurately portray the political and social situation in India in the 1970s,it reflects the prejudices within the upper castes and the fatalistic attitude of the lower castes, formed from their religious beliefs that suffering is their destiny and the reward will be in the afterlife1.
  3. This story is overwhelmingly sad and also shocking as the reader can identify the ethical question of human suffering for a possibly laudable goal (in this case it is population control). However, the novel is also uplifting in a peculiar way; that individuals who struggle so hard to exist in appalling conditions can find joy in their lives is humbling. It also allows the reader to identify with the prejudices and to see a situation from another side. Maybe at the end of the book, the reader feels that they have grown a little in spirit and have the capacity to be a 'better' person as a result.
  4. For me, the mark of a great book is one that remains with you long after the back page is read. This is such a book.
Amazon Customer Review (Negative)
  1. Rohinton Mistry's "A Fine Balance" is a tremendously well-read and well-loved novel. I came to it late on the back of a wealth of recommendations as this review page demonstrates. And yes, it's a well-written, engaging book, with vividly described, credible characters. Yes, it's a story across the caste system of India and yes, there's plenty of drama.
  2. However, it is also one of the bleakest books I have read. The widow, Dina, and her tailor employees, Ishvar and Om are engaged in a constant battle against the society of their times to keep their heads above water. Theirs isn't a quest for prosperity or opportunity, it's a battle for independence and survival. They are joined by a lodger, Maneck, who's more prosperous and idealistic, but is he resilient enough to stand up to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune? You'll have to read the book of course.
  3. So, I would say, read it for its language, its description, its character detail but don't read it if you're depressed and don't read it if you're a great fan of India, because this is as damning a condemnation of a country as I have ever read. It doesn't surprise me in the least that Mr. Mistry now resides in Canada, because the India he describes here is one you wouldn't go near with a barge-pole.
Amazon Customer Review (Negative)
  1. I'll leave aside the fact that this book has, in effect, no plot - indeed the first half is nothing really more than backstory - and often reads like an Indian party political broadcast, and just focus on what really irked me. And here I'll make a confession. I didn't finish this novel, which is a rare thing for me - I usually feel it's a point of honour to get to the closing pages, even if I'm truly suffering in the process. But I discovered the remaining 200-odd pages basically involved one sadistic turn of event after another, until all the characters are all but annihilated.
  2. 'Utterly without hope' is how one reviewer put it. I'm not into 'utterly without hope'. And I also happen to believe that it has no place in literature. I loathed Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" for this very reason. I'd throw in Michel Houellebecq's "Atomised" onto that heap, and possibly toss on J G Ballard's "Cocaine Nights" for good measure. Then set light to the lot. Farenheit 451, anyone?
  3. I'm not saying all novels should be uplifting, not at all. But there should be some purpose in all that negativity. Take George Orwell's "1984". Negative, yes. Depressing, perhaps. Nihilistic, no. "1984" was a warning, an intelligent exploration of totalitarianism. There was sense and meaning in the protagonist's suffering. Ditto Kafka or Dostoevsky - they're not exactly giving us a sunny view of the world in their novels, but they are nevertheless truly satisfying reads.
  4. What message are we supposed to take from Rohinton torturing then abandoning his central characters? It's like watching a slasher movie where everyone winds up dead. You're left wondering what's the point of it all? And in my opinion, that feeling has no place in good literature.

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  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2019
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

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