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A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
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A Fine Balance (original 1995; edition 1996)

by Rohinton Mistry

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6,958189518 (4.38)1 / 639
Member:lilianboerboom
Title:A Fine Balance
Authors:Rohinton Mistry
Info:Emblem/Mcclelland & Stewart (2002), Paperback, 728 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
Tags:None

Work details

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

  1. 70
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English (182)  Norwegian (2)  French (2)  German (1)  Danish (1)  All languages (188)
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Summary: Centered around the flat of Dina Dalal, inhabited by two tailors and a student with a larger circle on the periphery, the novel charts the "fine balances" the people of India sought to maintain through the Emergency Rule of Indira Gandhi--balances of both physical and spiritual.

For a twenty-one month period from 1975 to 1977 Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ruled under a decree of a "state of emergency" in which constitutional processes were suspended during which mass arrests, forced sterilizations, and slum clearances forced residents into work camps or onto the streets, where they could be arrested as well. Corruption was rampant and "justice" was bought and sold.

Most of the narrative of A Fine Balance occurs during this period, with "retrospective" narratives of the lives of each of the principle characters and the circumstances that brought them together. The characters are Dina Dalal, a widow after losing, in a bicycle accident, the man she married for love, opposing her brother Nusswan's efforts to match her up with more prosperous men. She struggles to support herself by sewing in order to hold onto the rent-controlled flat that represented the three years of love she and her husband enjoyed. Maneck Kohlah is the son of a couple living in the hill country who made their living operating a general store, slowly losing its edge to the tide of modernity invading their village. Maneck comes to the city for training in heating and air conditioning, tires of living in a filthy hostel and becomes a lodger with Dina through a friend of Maneck's family. Ishvar and Omprakash Darji come from a caste of tanners, change occupation and learn tailoring and when custom work dwindles, come to the city even as Dina is setting up a shop to supply a clothing export business.

Already, one senses the "fine balance" between destitution and survival with which most of the characters struggle. Dina struggles to keep her flat against the attempts of her landlord to evict her to secure higher rents. Her steps to take lodgers and run a business put her at greater risk. Given the dearth of housing the tailors are forced to take a hut in one of the slums. Eventually it is bulldozed and they sleep in a shop doorway, paying off the watchman, until they are rounded up by police for a work camp (it is during the time at the work camp when the "fine balance" phrase is used for the Monkey Man, who eventually creates an act balancing two children on a pole, which his audiences found repulsive). Along with them is a beggar, Shankar, without hands or legs, who they help, and who in turn helps them until they can get free of the camp, with the aid of Shankar's Beggar Master, to whom they are beholden but who also becomes their protector, and eventually Dina's as well.

Maneck strives for a different "fine balance", an interior one between parental relationships and expectations, his own aspirations, and the injustices and tragedies that he witnesses in the lives of his friends. In some sense, all of the characters live on the knife edge of hope and despair, but the question of for whom this is hardest--for those who endure the most physically or those who experience the most in their souls, is one of the questions this book raises.

Publisher's blurbs describe this book as Dickensian in its narrative sweep and compassionate realism. Like Dickens, Mistry introduces us to a group of characters for whom we come to care and whose lives are caught up in the social forces of their time. One sees the tragic human consequences when "necessity" demands the suspension of the rule of law for the rule of power. And the book reminds us of the "fine balance" within which all of our lives are lived. ( )
  BobonBooks | Jul 24, 2016 |
Book Description 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.

My Review This is a beautifully written book about life in India during the mid-70's. The characters are well-drawn so much so that you can feel a real connection to them. We get a picture of the awful way of life under Prime Minister Gandhi's The State of Emergency, the 3rd world economics, the political, social and religious conditions of the caste system and the strength it takes for the human spirit to endure. This book is a must read as it is a real piece of art that will stay with you long after you finish the last page. ( )
  EadieB | Jun 1, 2016 |
Review: A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry.

I have read books with the setting in India but some have a two way version of the culture. This book opens the reader’s eyes to a more severe life of the homeless and lower class. The author has written in words plain and powerful circumstances of the lives of people trying to balance survival in the gutters of filth and among evil doers with no structure to hold onto. The story is well written, organized, and the unforgettable characters are degraded in many ways to follow the flow of what the author has in store for the reader. He will make you feel for his characters. Mistry writes about India in all its richness and dire poverty. The in-depth look at a culture and people of the lower class makes this story emotional and heartbreaking.

These people in India go through hunger, live in boxed shanties if they are that lucky, people with grimy faces and slimy bodies, missing limbs, tattered and dirty clothes, and places with government cruelty has no stopping point. In this story Mistry combines the lives of four heartfelt characters with different backgrounds into a bond that last a life time. Dina Dalal, a young widowed and determined person to make it as an independent woman in a world where women have little value takes on the care of three other companions.

She did work at home as a seamstress, sewing clothes as piece-work from a big manufacture company but her eyes were getting worse so she decided to hire two tailors to stitch for her and make a profit at the same time. It started out only as a solution to her problem of poverty. She went out looking for two tailors to come into her home during the day to stitch for her, that’s when she came across Ishyar Darki and his nephew Omprakash who were escaping the terror in their village and just moving to the city looking for work. Then she decided to take in a border named Maneck Kohlah, a student, sent by his parents from a mountain village to attend school in the city. This group of people became dependant on each other out of necessity. She had only a three room apartment but she managed by placing her border in her bedroom and putting her bed in the sewing room in the corner leaving room to set up the tailors sewing machines. This is just the essential basic framework of the story and how they met.

The story goes on drastically disturbing with other degenerated but heartwarming people and events. Mistry leaves nothing out; he doesn’t hold back any disturbing epilogue, dialogue, setting, horror, abuse, or crimes. He places the genuine words of events of poverty right down to the deaths on each and every page as a memorizing image of destruction on the streets of India that will linger in the readers mind for a very long time.

Even though the book was disturbing, Rohinton Mistry wrote about the homeless and low-class poverty stricken people in India with emphases of importance of what reality really balances for this culture and people…



( )
  Juan-banjo | May 31, 2016 |
If I could give this book more stars I would - for the complete devastation of it. It stays with me still. I don't think anything else I have ever read has pulled such raw emotion out of me. ( )
  BrydieWalkerBain | Apr 26, 2016 |
This is a powerful book that is both heartwarming and heartbreaking in turn. The reader follows different characters, watching them develop and getting glimpses into their pasts to see where they come from. You get to see what brings them together, see them grow and see how they learn to accept and care for each other, and then also witness less happy events, and some downright tragedies, and see them have to cope with those things in their lives that are seemingly out of their control.
  GretchenLynn | Apr 11, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 182 (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."

Honore de Balzac, Le Pere Goriot
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For Freny
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The morning express bloated with passengers slowed to a crawl, then lurched forward suddenly, as though to resume full speed.
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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)

» see all 6 descriptions

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