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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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7,062192511 (4.37)1 / 652
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)

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English (185)  Norwegian (2)  French (2)  German (1)  Danish (1)  All (191)
Showing 1-5 of 185 (next | show all)
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 |
A great book that is set in 1975 in India and tells the story of a woman, Dina, who in order to maintain her independence takes on a border (Maneck) and hires two tailors (Ishvar and Om) to sew garments for a contract. It is a wonderful story of friendships and survival (or not) of the human spirit when life is not so easy. An eye opening book about the politics in 1975 and how it affected the people on the fringe. The emergency was a 21 month period of time from 1975 to 1977 when the prime mister ruled by decree; civil liberties and elections were suspended. One of the main events during this Emergency was the forced sterilization program.

Quotes: "The secret of survival is to embrace change, and to adapt." pg 228.
"Sometimes you have to use your failures as stepping stones to success. You have to maintain a fine balance between hope and despair". pg 228 to 229.
"Later I discovered there were different types of roads. And different way of walking on each.....Must be my tailor training. Tailors re practiced in examining patterns, reading the outlines." page 395.

The Epilogue of the story is 8 years later after the assassination of the prime minister and we catch up on where everyone is 8 years later. Did they keep their fine balance? Were they able to adapt? You should read this story. A great story and a reminder of history that I had forgotten or didn't know. ( )
  Kristelh | Sep 24, 2016 |
Extremely well written but relentless in the depressing and horrifying incidents that the main characters experience. I have heard Mistry compared to Dickens but it was missing the comic relief that Dickens usually includes & I for one would have appreciated it. ( )
1 vote leslie.98 | Aug 17, 2016 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 185 (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)

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