Book Review: A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry

Set in the mid 1970’s in India during the Internal Emergency, it weaves the story of four people who develop an unlikely friendship.

The first part of the book introduces us to Ishvar and Om, an uncle and nephew duo of tailors who leave village life after tragedy to find work in the city. Their story entwines with Dina Dilal’s after they take on consignment sewing for her in her apartment. Her boarder Maneck is the fourth character.

And so we begin the unfolding story which gives insights into timeless India, but also gives account of injustices which occurred during the political turmoil of the 1970’s.

“You see, you cannot draw lines and compartments, and refuse to budge beyond them. Sometimes you have to use your failures as stepping-stones to success. You have to maintain a fine balance between hope and despair.”

Despair. Yes, this book deals with despair. The despair of poverty, crooked politics and the injustice of caste. But it is interwoven with hope, and in the face of despair, the beauty of humanity shows itself against the backdrop of ugliness. The characters are well developed and all throughout I hoped for better for them. I hoped they could overcome the injustices raging against them. And yet, though the darkness seemed to triumph, and the atrocities that they suffered just kept coming, this book was a compassionate and sensitive picture of the human ability to endure. Once again, suffering seems to bring out the best and worst in people, and both are so very human and makes us what we are.

A solid long read of 600+ pages, I think my recent reading drought has broken. A great novel.

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