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A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

A Fine Balance (original 1995; edition 1996)

by Rohinton Mistry

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
7,127194503 (4.37)1 / 669
Title:A Fine Balance
Authors:Rohinton Mistry
Info:Emblem/Mcclelland & Stewart (2002), Paperback, 728 pages
Collections:Your library

Work details

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (Author) (1995)

  1. 70
    The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (JudeyN)
    JudeyN: Set in a different time and place, but similar themes. Examines the different ways in which people respond to hardship and upheaval.
  2. 40
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  3. 40
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    Roots by Alex Haley (mariamreza)
    mariamreza: Also leads the reader through an emotional roller coaster, experiencing the hope and despair of the characters from poor/ oppressed communities.
  7. 10
    Such a Long Journey by Rohinton Mistry (mcenroeucsb)
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English (187)  Norwegian (2)  French (2)  German (1)  Danish (1)  All (193)
Showing 1-5 of 187 (next | show all)
Beautifully-written story about India set in the 1970's. Focusing on the rife corruption, cruelty, fear and poverty, as seen through the experiences of four characters: an independent widow, a student, and two 'untouchables' who learn to sew; with a large cast of memorable figures including beggars, a beggar-master, a rent collector and a monkey-man street entertainer.

Mistry writes in a way that makes you care about his well-drawn characters. But for me (and hence only 4-stars) there was little balance between 'hope' and 'despair'. I found myself willing an alternate ending, whereby the four main characters found a new life in an invigorated shop in the hills.

Knowing little of India, I have no idea how true a picture this novel depicts of the time. And it would be fascinating to know what Indians living through those times made of this beautiful but bleak book. ( )
  LARA335 | Mar 24, 2017 |
What to say, A Fine Balance is brilliant, and its length only a small obstacle.
I was very surprised at how quickly I moved through 50-page chunks of this story as I became engrossed in the lives of several unfortunate citizens of an un-named Indian city during the official Emergency of 1975. What a cast of characters: A widow, determined to be independent and not to remain under the thumb of her older brother; a college student with an unclear vision of his own future; 2 tailors who have broken caste restrictions that would have kept them competing for animal carcasses and immersed in tanning chemicals as their fathers and grandfathers before them; a beggar mutilated as a child to make him more profitable to the Beggarmaster; the Monkey Man, whose street performances required a very fine sense of balance indeed. These lives intertwine in ways variously beneficial, detrimental, and tragic. There is little fairness, justice or order during the Emergency, and almost no basis for hope or dreams. In fact, very few of these people have any hopes for themselves beyond basic survival. They seem unsophisticated, fatalistic, almost simple-minded, to the Western reader, and have no points of references with the world beyond their limits. Sleeping in a doorway under the protection of a night watchman becomes a privilege to be held dear. People disappear regularly, victims of government round-ups for “supportive” crowds at an appearance by the Prime Minister, or for impressed labor, or even for involuntary sterilization. Although the college student’s parents, in their remote and, by contrast, idyllic, mountain home have dreams for their son and the elder tailor has dreams of marriage and children for his nephew, neither young man is able to share or even pretend enthusiasm for these hopeful imaginings. The reality of their existence is too forceful, the government presence and control too pervasive. As Maneck the student observes when asked if he believes that God is dead: "I prefer to think that God is a giant quiltmaker. With an infinite variety of designs. And the quilt is grown so big and confusing, the pattern is impossible to see, the squares and diamonds and triangles don't fit well together anymore, it's all become meaningless. So He has abandoned it." As grim as it all is, there are moments of kindness, compassion and connection among the principals, as they occasionally find that balance between hope and despair that keeps the human spirit alive. "There is always hope--hope enough to balance our despair. Or we would be lost." Despite a few touches of dark humor, there is no doubt that reading this book is a heart-wrenching experience. As the 4 main characters come to care for one another, the reader comes to care for them, and to dread the inevitability of the college student’s repeated observation that everything always ends badly. With a bit more lightness, this would have been a 5-star read for me. But then it would have been slightly less brilliant, perhaps. ( )
6 vote laytonwoman3rd | Mar 8, 2017 |
My favourite scenes are those of the family life shared by Dina Dalal, Ishvar and Omprakesh Darji and Maneck Kohlah in Dina's house. Dina had thought these days would last, and even prepared a place for Omprakesh and his bridge after they return from the village. However, Omprakesh never got married. He was circumcised and his uncle's legs had to be amputated due to a cruel turn of fate. Somehow they managed to return to the city and eke out a likelihood as beggars, while Dina returned to her brother's place. Maneck was the truly unhappy one. He returned from working overseas expecting to find things unchanged at Dina's place, and could not accept the truth when he saw how the others have turned out. ( )
  siok | Jan 30, 2017 |
Wow. I love Mistry's writing. This novel was actually amazing. It was full of reality. Just so much hard reality. The ugliness and weakness of humanity was carefully sketched out in very fine detail through glimpses into the lives of several very different people. It was at times brutal to read, and yet Mistry managed to keep it from falling into the abyss of flagrant pathos. Tragedy and tragic setbacks and dreams crushed or swirling the drain were repeatedly presented as almost pedestrian—part of the fine balance. Each of the many characters were incredibly vivid and sympathetic, and the way Mistry weaved in and out of their backstories, their present circumstances, and the overlapping rings that linked them all together was deftly done. As with Such a Long Journey, I felt completely and wonderfully immersed in the culture and times of this novel. This was a novel to linger over and think on. I read this months ago, and I still have a hangover from it, in a good way. It is so powerful, it just sticks with you. ( )
  eslee | Nov 18, 2016 |
A fine novel this is. Set in 1975 in India, during Indira Gandhi's "Emergency" era, the book ultimately is about 4 disparate survivors who strike a tenuous live-in arrangement in an unnamed city. Dina Dalal has come to the city to start a tailoring business after a lucky introduction to a high-end seller, as well as to escape her stifling brother, to whose patronage she refuses to turn in the wake of her husband's death. Next are Ishvar and Om, an uncle and nephew duo, who brazenly flee their caste (leather working), and government-induced violence, to apprentice themselves to a muslim tailor and find employment, and eventual friendship, from Dina. Finally is Maneck, a young student whose education seems paramount to his mountain village parents, and who finds lodging with Dina through a mutual family friend. Much background is given before the groups' own dynamics in a politically inflamed city move the narrative swiftly forward. Also, memorable actors: We meet a kindly beggarmaster and his favorite worker-on-wheels; an elderly rent-collector whose intimidation methods are drying up; a hair-collector (for wigs), who seems both maligned and malignant; and numerous other interesting sub-characters. Long, epic and well-conceived. Tragedy, brutality in spades, but a heartfelt work without question. ( )
  JamesMScott | Nov 7, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 187 (next | show all)
Rohinton Mistry needs no infusions of magical realism to vivify the real. The real world, through his eyes, is quite magical enough.

» Add other authors (8 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Mistry, RohintonAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Cowper, RichardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Danielsson, UllaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Echevarría, AuroraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Julià, PepTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mulder, ArjenTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Post, MaaikeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pujol, RubénTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"Holding this book in your hand, sinking back in your soft armchair, you will say to yourself: perhaps it will amuse me. And after you have read this story of great misfortunes, you will no doubt dine well, blaming the author for your own insensitivity, accusing him of wild exaggeration and flights of fancy. But rest assured: this tragedy is not a fiction. All is true."

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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 140003065X, Paperback)

With a compassionate realism and narrative sweep that recall the work of Charles Dickens, this magnificent novel captures all the cruelty and corruption, dignity and heroism, of India. The time is 1975. The place is an unnamed city by the sea. The government has just declared a State of Emergency, in whose upheavals four strangers--a spirited widow, a young student uprooted from his idyllic hill station, and two tailors who have fled the caste violence of their native village--will be thrust together, forced to share one cramped apartment and an uncertain future.

As the characters move from distrust to friendship and from friendship to love, A Fine Balance creates an enduring panorama of the human spirit in an inhuman state.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:31 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

A portrait of India featuring four characters. Two are tailors who are forcibly sterilized, one is a student who emigrates, and the fourth is a widowed seamstress who decides to hang on. A tale of cruelty, political thuggery and despair by an Indian from Toronto, author of Such a Long Journey.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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