A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

One of the most depressing novels I have ever read (and obviously by this blog, I’ve read a fair few) has been Mistry’s A Fine Balance. Good Lord, the main characters could not catch a break. Mistry’s novel takes place in India during the revolution. There are four main characters: Dina, Ishvar, Om, and Maneck. The entire book discusses the characters’ back story, each extremely different from the other, how the characters came to inhabit the same flat, and what happens after they live together. The intertwining story of the characters has to do with economic issues plaguing India during the mid-20th century that caused a widow, two tailors, and a student to come together and try to survive.

Dina is the owner of the flat that the other three characters inhabit. She is a widow whose husband died in a bicycle accident a few years after their marriage. Dina needed to make ends meet to support her rent dues so she finds two tailors to make clothing for a large retailer. The tailors, Ishvar and Om, travelled each day from their disgusting home to Dina’s, worked a full work day and then travelled back. They did not live with Dina until later in the novel when they lost their home by a redevelopment endeavor of the government. Maneck was a student at the university and was paying for the room in Dina’s flat. He came from a village in the mountains, as well as a fairly wealthy family due to them owning a small shop that supported their town. That’s how he had the money to not only go to school but also live with Dina.

This novel was an epic 600 pages. Usually I enjoy long novels, but this one took me weeks to finish. This is mostly because I could not think of a less enticing thing to do on the weekend than read the novel, which is so sad for me. But, I finally blasted through the last 100 pages and go through the ending. The only people I would recommend this novel to are Indians who would cherish the historical perspective of the novel. Quite honestly though, I have no idea how the novel made it onto my list of top 100 books of all time. Mistry drones on and on at times, giving exceptional details in some respects, but other times it was as if I read two pages and had to go back for the novel jumped into the future by weeks or years within a paragraph. Mistry failed at portraying time in a meaningful way throughout the book. The majority of the book proceeds at a fairly slow snail pace, where other sections speed on by.

With respect to the actual material of the novel, I thought Mistry over-portrayed the depression of all of the characters. Specifically, during this era in time in India, the government supports the sterilization of the people. Mistry repetitively drives the point home that the government supported doctor efforts to go to the poor regions of the country to sterilize the people. It was almost too much and too sad. I think this was an important part of the time in India, I think that Mistry spent way too much time, novel space, and effects on characters in considering this part of the plot. I also despise how Mistry ended the novel. Ishvar and Om are severely affected by their castration and sterilization, Dina loses her flat, most support characters die and are killed, and Maneck commits suicide. Really, Mistry?!

To reiterate, the only way I would say to read this novel is if Indian history is your specialty or part of your ancestry. Otherwise, pass it at the library; no one needs that extent of depression.

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