A Fine Balance

A Fine Balance

A Novel

Book - 1996
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The eagerly awaited novel from the author of the award-winning Such a Long Journey is set in India in the mid-1970s. A State of Internal Emergency has been declared, and in the days of bleakness and hope that follow, four disparate people find their lives becoming unexpectedly and inextricably entwined.
Publisher: New York : Knopf, 1996.
New York : Vintage International, c1995.
Edition: 1st American ed.
ISBN: 9780679446088
Branch Call Number: MIST
Characteristics: 603p. 24cm.


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Nov 29, 2020

India 1975-76 during Emergency. Outstanding novel from a favorite author.

Jan 08, 2020

Some readers have drawn comparisons between “A Fine Balance” and some of Dickens’ works. Others have invoked Shakespeare, notably King Lear — and lines from Macbeth certainly come to mind: “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more.” But while there are elements in the book to support those suggestions, I find myself dissatisfied with such comparisons; and with the novel itself.
Mistry set out to depict a great human tragedy, or more accurately a series of little tragedies that blend into one another through several generations, reminiscent of Hugo’s “Les Miserables”. Regrettably, a much greater tragedy got in the way and galloped roughshod over the individual human story of his unfortunate protagonists: It is the tragedy of India itself, overwhelmed by the burden of its own history and falling victim to the corruption, arrogance and hegemony of its own ruling classes. Throughout the book, I was reminded again and again that referring to India as ‘the world’s largest democracy’ is a sick joke.
This is also a cautionary tale: it foretells what will surely become of a people who lack the courage, determination, foresight and capacity to hold their leaders accountable. It’s a depiction of what happens when elected leaders become masters instead of servants of the people. It begins with the subornment of the democratic process itself, hijacked by money, lies and power, manipulated to ensure the installation of figureheads who are beholden to the rich and powerful, intent upon subverting the mechanisms of laws, courts, security forces, taxation, regulations and patronage in order to transfer power from the needy many to the privileged few. We are witnessing that process in several of today’s democracies and it’s a discouraging sight: once despotism gains a grip on a nation, it becomes impossible to escape from it because all of the mechanisms that were intended to protect individual rights and maintain the rule of law have been coopted. Anyone who doesn’t perceive this pernicious cycle at work in the USA ought to read “Dark Money” by Jane Mayer!
In the honorable tradition of Shakespeare, Mistry offers us moments of humor, mostly of a dark, ironic variety to alleviate the pain — episodes such as the railway latrine, the farcical machinations of the ‘Beggarmaster’ or the adolescent fumblings of the hormone-driven Om and Maneck. But such moments only serve to further highlight the dominant theme: the malignant destiny that grips the tailors whether in their ancestral village or in the city; and the ongoing struggle of Dina and her little ménage. In the end, I was reminded of the final scene in Mussorgsky’s operatic masterpiece “Boris Godunov” when the fool laments the sad destiny of the Russian people. It is in this manner that Rohinton Mistry departs from a Shakespearean ethos and from the humanism of Victor Hugo, leaving us with no hope of rescue or whisper of redemption.
I applaud this book as a fine piece of literature and a valiant attempt to expose the ugly truth about despotism and the abuse of power. Regrettably, the ‘fine balance’ between pragmatism and despair that Mistry and his protagonists sought has not been achieved; the barbarians are not at the gate, they rule the palace and the best chance for the underlings to survive is to avoid being noticed.
A challenging and very though-provoking read, but one that I cannot claim to have enjoyed. I now plan to take a deep breath and read a good wholesome murder mystery to make me feel more hopeful for humanity.

Jun 26, 2019

There is a flow in the way this man tells a story. It’s fluid and it carries my along with it until I’m swept up and can’t stop thinking about the characters and their lives.

Apr 02, 2019

Absolutely EXCELLENT. I couldn't put it down...a really good story and I also learned so much. Don't miss!!!

Oct 10, 2018

"In the end, it's all a question of balance."
Magnificent, sweeping novel set in tumultuous 1970s India. At 600 pages, it's both panoramic and intimate. While the background is political and social unrest (corruption, police raids, religious strife, clearing slums, forced labor), the story focuses on four character: a proud widow who runs a sewing shop, the two tailors who work for her and strive for a better life, and her young college student relative. There is a lot of pain and a lot of suffering in this novel, but it doesn't grow bleak or oppressive. Mistry, who also wrote "Such a Long Journey," has an enormous compassion and empathy for his characters, which is what great literature does. One of the great novels of the past few decades.
"After all, our lives are but a sequence of accidents-a clanking chain of chance events. A string of choices, casual or deliberate, which add up that one big calamity we call life."

Jan 27, 2018

heart-wrenching collection of human misery

Jan 17, 2018

Prior to going to India for the first time, I read several books set in contemporary India. Now, after returning from that absolutely incredible country, "A Fine Balance" has given me a new perspective on what I saw and experienced. This book is rich in detail, a wonderful story in some of the best writing I have ever read - some of it quite funny. Quite heart rendering.

Jan 01, 2018

Very sad story

Oct 01, 2017

Definitely a five star novel! It covers the period in India from independence in 1946 to 1984 with well-developed characters. Makes the novels about neurotic couples and so-called seekers of enlightenment rather pitiful when you complete this novel. Several years ago I had a one week business trip in New Delhi and this novel brought back the sights and sounds of India most vividly.

Sep 12, 2017

An exceptional book. If you think you are poor think again.

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Sep 16, 2007

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randallflagg Mar 03, 2012

From Wikipedia

The book exposes the changes in Indian society from independence in 1947 to the Emergency called by Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Mistry is generally critical of P. M. Gandhi in the book. Interestingly, however, Gandhi is never referred to by name by any of the characters, and is instead called simply "the prime minister". The characters, from diverse backgrounds, are all brought together by economic forces changing India.

Ishvar and Omprakash's family is part of the Chamaar caste, who traditionally cured leather and were considered untouchable. In an attempt to break away from the restrictive caste system, Ishvar's father apprentices his sons Ishvar and Narayan to a Muslim tailor, Ashraf Chacha, in a nearby village, and so they became tailors. As a result of their skills, which are also passed on to Narayan's son Omprakash (Om), Ishvar and Om move to Mumbai to get work, by then unavailable in the town near their village because a pre-made clothing shop has opened.

Maneck, from a small mountain village in northern India, moves to the city to acquire a college certificate "as a back-up" in case his father's soft drink business is no longer able to compete after the building of a highway near their village.

Dina, from a traditionally wealthy family, maintains tenuous independence from her brother by living in the flat of her deceased husband, who was a chemist.

Dina distances herself from the political ferment of the period: "Government problems and games played by people in power," she tells Ishvar. "It doesn't affect ordinary people like us" (Mistry, 86). But in the end it does affect all of them, drastically.

At the beginning of the book, the two tailors, Ishvar and Omprakash, are on their way to the flat of Dina Dalal via a train. While on the train, they meet a college student named Maneck Kohlah, who coincidentally is also on his way to the flat of Dina Dalal to be a boarder. They become friends and go to Dina's flat together. Dina hires Ishvar and Om for piecework, and agrees to let Maneck stay with her. Dina then reflects on her past and how she was brought to her current situation.

Sep 16, 2007

Dinah is trying to start and independent life. She will meet two tailors, and a college student all who will stay with her for a time. All 4 of these characters have sad and interesting pasts.


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Sep 16, 2007

Violence: there is a lot of cruelty.


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