Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.
Family Matters (original 2002; edition 2003)
by Rohinton Mistry (Author)
Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry (2002)
Booker Prize (41)
» 15 more
Best family sagas (62)
A Novel Cure (184)
Five star books (363)
All Things India (50)
Best of World Literature (252)
Alphabetical Books (54)
No current Talk conversations about this book.
This is a beautifully written story that focuses on a Parsi family living in Bombay (Mumbai) in the 1990s. They live in a small flat. The mother’s step siblings deposit her injured and aging father, who is also battling Parkinson’s disease, on her doorstep when they are unable or unwilling to care for him. It is about ordinary lives that are transformed by bad luck, and how they respond to these challenges. It is filled with moral dilemmas, especially for the family’s patriarch, Yesad. The relationship between the youngest child and the grandfather is portrayed with such tenderness. The child wants to help and even finds a way of making money and secretly slipping it into the family’s funds. It poignantly depicts family dynamics, the big changes taking place in the city, Parsi beliefs and concerns, and Hindu-Muslim tensions of the time period. Themes include elder care, family bonds, corruption, sense of belonging, religion, and the generation gap. It is a bittersweet and intimate story told in Mistry’s elegant style. It is slow in developing, but the payoff is well worth it. It is a book to become immersed in. Truly a gem. ( )
Yezad, who works at the Bombay sports Emporium, has a boss, Mr kapur, whose hobby it is to find and buy old photos of Bombay in its early days. Then he finds photos of even earlier times and then a bit later time, and compare them to the actual scene. He shows yezad three photos of the area around the Bombay Sports Emporium, and what they looked like in earlier times:
"yezad's eyes moved from the print to the junction where six roads converged, and back to the print, willing the cinema to disappear with the picture's aid.
'What are those low structures in the photo?'
'I went to the Asiatic society library and did some research. This plot of land was acquired by the metro goldwin corporation in 1936, on a lease for 99 years, at one rupee per year. What you see in the photo are the stables of the royal air force.'
'why would the Air Force need stables?'
'for their horses.'
'Very funny. Okay, so why would they need horses?'
'to wheel the planes out of the hangers, to haul heavy machinery - mix of high-tech and low. Like it still is - last week, the phone company was laying state of the art fiber optic cable near my house, but the ditch was being dug with pickaxes and spades, the rubble carried away in baskets on women's heads.' "
Nariman, who is yezaad's father-in-law, Lives with his step-children Coomy and jal. When he breaks his ankle, and is immobilized in his bed with a cast from his ankle to his thigh, it's very hard for them to take care of him. They have to bring his bedpan whenever he has to do his bathroom, they need to give him Sponge baths, they have to bring his food and take it away.
Coomy doesn't like it, so instead of a bedpan she brings him a commode, to put next to his bed. But now they have to maneuver Nariman in and out of bed and set him on the commode; moreover, they have to empty it. It hurts nariman to get up and down out of bed and to rest his ankle on the floor while he uses the commode.
Coomy hates taking care of him, even refusing to give him sponge baths. She devises a plan to make Roxana, their younger sister, and nariman's daughter, take care of him, in their little flat.
When he is supposed to come back after 10 weeks to his own flat he shares with Coomy and Jal, she thinks of an even more chaotic plan: to pretend that water wrecked their roof, and that it would be dangerous for Nariman to return to his room.
" 'Hold the stool tight!' He stood, and steadied himself, checking if he could touch the ceiling. Yes. He rested the fingertips of his left hand against the smooth surface, and immediately felt more stable.
'Go on, begin.'
Sighing, he swung the hammer. It landed with a half-hearted thud, raining bits of plaster upon the bed and in Coomy's hair. 'I just thought of something - what if someone hears the noise?'
'who, the crows? Only the roof is above us.'
He continued, creating holes and cracks in the ceiling. Some sections crumbled readily, others resisted. He paused to give his shoulders a rest, and moved to places that were less damaged, following her directions.
'isn't that enough?'
'keep going. Dr Tarapore removed more plaster from Pappa's leg.'
Finally she asked him to come down and give his opinion. 'Does it look genuine?'
From below, the ceiling appeared worse than when his face had been close to it. He felt sick as he surveyed the wreck, and nodded.
'good, we can work on the other side.' "
In Roxana and yezad's flat, nariman has to sleep on the settee, which I think is like a couch. Roxana has to bring the bed pan for him, and the urinal, and give him his sponge bath, all right there in the front room, with the dining table right next to it. She keeps the bedpan and the urinal underneath the settee. All of this disgusts yezad.
"The boys were alone in the back room when he got home. He asked them where their mother was.
'She went out, daddy.'
'I can see that. I asked where.'
'she didn't tell us.'
he went to the kitchen and put the kettle on for himself. Nariman's voice, requesting his bottle, drifted softly in from the front room. Jehangir came hurrying to the kitchen. 'I think Grandpa wants to do soo-soo.'
Though his son's concern touched him, he was firm. 'We went through this last week, didn't we?'
'yes, daddy, but I think he wants to do it very badly.'
'listen, jehangla, I promised myself when your grandfather was thrust into our lives -- I will never touch the bottle or the bed pan. And neither will you.'
Jehangir looked puzzled while his father was saying all this. There was sadness in his father's voice. He tried again, explaining that the bed might get wet.
'That's not your concern. Do your homework.'
His shoulders drooped as he went back exhaling heavily. He heard his grandfather call out again, 'please, it cannot wait. Ultimately... It will issue forth...' before lapsing into a whimper.
Yezad finished making his tea, stirring his grievances into it. After a sip from the saucer he gulped the rest down and made a face. Not as good as roxana's.
He returned his empty cup and saucer to the kitchen, peeked in the back room where the boys were doing homework, and went to the balcony to lean over the railing. Was he becoming one of those pathetic men who are models of geneality everywhere except in their own homes, where they were bullies? [My ex-husband, the SOB]
No, he refused to believe it. His very life, the one he'd been leading till a few months ago, had been kidnapped. Roxana's family had stolen his peace and contentment. Until he could regain it, he would have to face the squalor within these four walls, in this place that used to be his sanctuary from the brutal city."
As Nariman's time with roxana's family drags on, yezad's attitude softens towards his father-in-law. He sees the suffering he goes through with his Parkinson's disease, his hands and feet tossing helplessly beneath the sheet. It causes him to ruminate on the end of life
"nariman groaned in his sleep, and yezad broke off his rumination to go to the settee. 'It's okay, chief,' He touched his shoulder. 'I'm sitting right here.'
He returned to his teacup, not sure if Nariman had heard him. Strange trip, this journey towards death. No way of knowing how much longer for the chief ... a year, two years? But Roxana was right, helping your elders through it - that was the only way to learn about it. And the trick was to remember it when your own time came..
would he, he wondered? What folly made young people, even those in Middle age, think they were immortal? How much better, their lives, if they could remember the end. Carrying your death with you every day would make it hard to waste time on unkindness and anger and bitterness, on anything petty. that was the secret: remembering your dying time, in order to keep the stupid and the ugly out of your living time.
He pushed back his chair quietly and took his cup and saucer to the kitchen. He rinsed them, wiped his hands, and returned to watch nariman. Curious, he thought, how, if you knew a person long enough, he could elicit every kind of emotion from you, every possible reaction, envy, admiration, pity, irritation, fury, fondness, jealousy, love, disgust. But in the end all human beings became candidates for compassion, all of us, without exception ... and if we could recognize this from the beginning, what a saving in pain and grief and misery..."
This book was deeply moving. It's not only the author's gift for language and complete observation of human emotions and family Dynamics. It's how it made me remember the time that I was my father's caretaker. He had become too sick to stay in their house, and my mother had died years before. He kept falling, and would lay there for hours.
All of us, his children, discussed what should be done about him. Several of them said that he should go to a nursing home, but he was broke and on medicare, which does not pay for a nursing home. Living with my ex-husband, I asked him if i could take care of him here. He agreed, and I arranged to bring him here. I also had to take care of emptying his house.
Though I am the one of my brothers and sisters who makes the least money, I was the only one who wanted to take care of him. I couldn't face the thought of my father being with strangers in his last days. But I was woefully inefficient at the job. I had no training whatsoever as a caretaker, being a tutor at a university. Moreover, at the time I was an alcoholic. Though I did take good care of my father, bathing him, cooking for him, taking care that he took all of his medications, making and taking him to doctor's appointments, making sure he had the controllers to watch his shows on netflix, taking care of his dog and seeing that she was next to him, I didn't do as much as I should have for him. And when he was in the nursing home and the hospital, I didn't spend enough time with him. My job interfered; my drinking interfered.
My father died alone, after we had all gone home from a visit in his hospital room.
To this day I cry (as I cried at Nariman's last day), to think of how I could have done so much more for him, and how much I miss him to this day.
"The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of."
Rohinton Mistry’s novel 'Family Matters' is smaller in scope than his earlier 'A Fine Balance', it deals with fateful choices by three generations of the men of a Parsi family in modern day India, the difficulties of caring for elder family members, and the role of tradition and religion in an ethnic minority that's in decline.
Nariman Vakeel is a 79 year old widower with Parkinson’s who lives with his two middle-aged step-children in an increasingly dilapidated apartment in Mumbai. Old age has brought him considerable health problems, yet Nariman is largely jovial and optimistic until an accident leaves him bed-ridden. Decisions about his on-going care needs have tragic consequences for all of the family as do decisions made decades previously.
You may be forgiven for thinking that its Nariman’s life story that dominates this novel but it covers three generations of Parsi men. The novel touches on many of the issues of modern day India, poor housing and wages, few employee rights, corruption, religious and ethnic divisions, healthcare problems to name but a few but this a familial and intimate story that befits the tile. However, it does share some common ground with the author's previous novels.
"If you ignore little things, they become big problems."
There were a couple of things that niggled me about the novel and both of them centred around Nariman's son-in-law, Yezad. When his father-in-law is placed in his family’s care the effect on their finances is considerable, he lashes out at his wife and sons and engages in dangerous ventures which puts all of his family at risk yet there seems to be little remorse shown. Similarly his full-blown return to his faith just seemed to be so out of keeping with what had gone before that it was hard to believe.
All three of Mistry’s novels were shortlisted for the Booker Prize which is an impressive achievement in itself and he can perhaps count himself unlucky not to have one of them. I thoroughly enjoy Mistry's character development. All of them in this novel are well drawn and it was difficult to dislike any of them despite not agreeing with some of their decisions, eccentric minor characters only added considerable colour and humour. The central theme of the care for elders and the burden that it can place on a struggling families, the difficult moral choices made in desperate circumstances is relatable and universal making this a poignant and thoughtful piece of writing.
One of the best books I've read so far this year. I'll probably take a look at his other novels too.
Not a patch on A Fine Balance, this starts out alright with a family fighting to survive on the fine margins of lower-middle class Indian life. However, once things settle down for them, the tension that kept you going dissipates and the novel peters out rather blandly.
Because A Fine Balance is such a powerful novel, I wouldn’t even bother with this unless you have a keen interest in Zoroastrianism. In addition, the novel has parts written exclusively in an unidentified Indian language with no explanation as to their meaning which seems a bit strange.
The novel initially centres around Nariman Vakeel, a septuginarian with Parkinsons who is cared for by a family typically riven by infighting and social posturing. While the focus remains on him, the novel is a poignant one and, had Mistry, maintained this I think it would have been very powerful.
However, about halfway through it gradually drifts off to focus on Yezad, the son-in-law whose family have taken in Nariman. This is a far less satisfying read and things don’t really develop in the way I’d hoped to keep my attention going any longer.
I also noticed that characters which are introduced seemingly innocuously always turned out to have a significant role later on. Far too contrived for an author who, as he’s proved, can do so much better.
Mistry started in the right place. Had he published Family first, he wouldn’t have had a hit. If you want more of Mistry and have read A Fine Balance, dig out your copy of that and read it again.
References to this work on external resources.
Wikipedia in English (1)
"The setting is Bombay, mid-1990s. Nariman Vakeel, suffering from Parkinson's disease, is the elderly patriarch of a small, discordant family. In a building called Chateau Felicity, he and his two middle-aged stepchildren - Coomy, bitter and domineering, and her just-younger brother, Jal, mild mannered and acquiescent - occupy a once-elegant apartment whose ruin is progressing as rapidly as Nariman's disease. Coomy has "rules to govern every aspect of [Nariman's] shrunken life," but even she cannot keep him from his evening walks. When he stumbles and breaks an ankle (fulfilling one of Coomy's nagging prophecies), she has hardly said "I told you so" before she is plotting to turn his round-the-clock care over to her younger, sweet-tempered half sister. Roxana, her husband, and their two sons live in an already overcrowded apartment, but Coomy knows that Roxana will not refuse her. What Coomy cannot know is that she has set in motion a great unraveling (and an unexpected repair) of the family - and a revelation of its deeply love-torn past."--BOOK JACKET.Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved
No library descriptions found.
Amazon Kindle (0 editions)
Audible (0 editions)
CD Audiobook (0 editions)
Project Gutenberg (0 editions)
Google Books — Loading...
Melvil Decimal System (DDC)813.54 — Literature English (North America) American fiction 20th Century 1945-1999
Is this you?
Become a LibraryThing Author.