I’ve been a bit remiss in updating my blog partly because of the Holidays and partly because a lot of things have happened in my life lately. However, a big part of it also has to do with laziness.
I realized that I did not post a December Book Loot earlier this month either but that’s because I didn’t buy any books in December! Shocking, I know. You’d expect December to be a great month to buy books, what with the extra Christmas money and the long vacation and all. But no, I did not buy a single book in December. I guess I was just too busy buying Christmas presents and getting ready for the holidays.
I did receive three books in the mail last December – duplicate copies of Paul DeWitt’s Undermajordomo Minor and Orhan Pamuk’s A Strangeness in my Mind and one copy of A Novel Cure: An A-Z of Literary Remedies by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin. However, I bought the first two back in September and the latter sometime in November.
The one book I read in December was Rohinton Mistry‘s A Fine Balance, which is an amazing novel that is wonderful and terrible at the same time. I finished this novel a few days before Christmas but never got around to blogging about it mostly because it is hard to express how I feel about it. A Fine Balance was shortlisted for the Booker prize in 1996 but lost to Graham Swift’s Last Orders.
The 600+ page novel follows the lives of four individuals from very different walks of life and with very different backgrounds thrown together by fate; Dina Dalal, a Parsi woman who has seen better days in her youth, Ishvar and Omprakash, uncle and nephew, whose family dared to reinvent themselves and rise above their caste, and Manek Kolah, an unhappy college student who is forced by his parents to leave his beautiful mountain village to study in the bustling over-crowded city. The novel takes place in an unnamed city in India, though many believe that the city in question is Bombay, during the government implementation of a State of Emergency in 1975 – a chaotic time in Indian history, when the general population was deprived of basic human rights and those in power had free reign over society.
A Fine Balance tells the story of the four characters, first, separately and later in relation to one another. Though each has a different background and comes from a different part of the county, the four characters have experienced unimaginable hardships and strife, which become emphasized during the Emergency. Through the eyes of the four characters, Rohinton Mistry shows the injustices and cruelties suffered by the Indian population at the hands of those in power and of the poverty experienced by the majority, that is, the homeless or those living in indescribable squalor.
Rohinton Mistry does a superb job of portraying his characters from every perspective, showing that goodness can reside in the vilest of characters and evil in the minds and hearts of good people. Because of this style of writing, readers will find it difficult to dislike any of the characters in the novel – even the most unsavory ones. He shows compassion from people in the most unlikely places as he plants ideas in the minds of the most pure-hearted characters.
A Fine Balance is a difficult novel to read not because of its narrative or writing style but because of its content. There are terrible stories of cruelty and torture and injustices, but there are also stories of love, hope, joy, and most important, survival. It is a novel about sadness and tragedies but surprisingly full of optimism – it is, in essence, a novel about life.
Sometimes you have to use your failures as stepping stones to success.You have to maintain a fine balance between hope and despair….Yes, in the end, it’s all a question of balance.
A Fine Balance (1995) – Rohinton Mistry
Faber and Faber; 612 pages (paperback)
Personal rating: 4/5