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A Fine Balance Paperback – November 30, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The setting of Mistry's quietly magnificent second novel (after the acclaimed Such a Long Journey) is India in 1975-76, when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, defying a court order calling for her resignation, declares a state of emergency and imprisons the parliamentary opposition as well as thousands of students, teachers, trade unionists and journalists. These events, along with the government's forced sterilization campaign, serve as backdrop for an intricate tale of four ordinary people struggling to survive. Naive college student Maneck Kohlah, whose parents' general store is failing, rents a room in the house of Dina Dalal, a 40-ish widowed seamstress. Dina acquires two additional boarders: hapless but enterprising itinerant tailor Ishvar Darji and his nephew Omprakash, whose father, a village untouchable, was murdered as punishment for crossing caste boundaries. With great empathy and wit, the Bombay-born, Toronto-based Mistry evokes the daily heroism of India's working poor, who must cope with corruption, social anarchy and bureaucratic absurdities. Though the sprawling, chatty narrative risks becoming as unwieldy as the lives it so vibrantly depicts, Mistry combines an openness to India's infinite sensory detail with a Dickensian rendering of the effects of poverty, caste, envy, superstition,corruption and bigotry. His vast, wonderfully precise canvas poses, but cannot answer, the riddle of how to transform a corrupt, ailing society into a healthy one.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

In mid-1970s urban India-a chaos of wretchedness on the streets and slogans in the offices-a chain of circumstances tosses four varied individuals together in one small flat. Stubbornly independent Dina, widowed early, takes in Maneck, the college-aged son of a more prosperous childhood friend and, more reluctantly, Ishvar and Om, uncle and nephew tailors fleeing low-caste origins and astonishing hardships. The reader first learns the characters' separate, compelling histories of brief joys and abiding sorrows, then watches as barriers of class, suspicion, and politeness are gradually dissolved. Even more affecting than Mistry's depictions of squalor and grotesque injustice is his study of friendships emerging unexpectedly, naturally. The novel's coda is cruel and heart-wrenching but deeply honest. This unforgettable book from the author of Such a Long Journey (LJ 4/15/91) is highly recommended.
Janet Ingraham, Worthington P.L., Ohio
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 603 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage International; 1st edition (1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 140003065X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400030651
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.3 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,021 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #12,027 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

387 of 403 people found the following review helpful By windriver12 on May 10, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I walked by the homeless in the streets while growing up in a city by the sea not unlike the one in this book. I was repulsed by their grimy faces, their missing limbs, their tattered and dirty clothes. Fearful I might catch their poor people diseases if I ventured too close, I would cross the street to avoid them. Sometimes throwing coins into their tin cups from a sterile distance-sometimes missing, and walking away praising my own charity.

Thank you Mr. Mistry for showing me the other side of the story. Thank you for putting into plain and powerful words exactly how unfair life in India is to the poor and lower castes. You have taught me more than any text book could about the injustices that daily occur in India. I hate you for your brutal honesty and for making me feel this way. Or perhaps, like you prophesized in the begining of this book, I am only blaming you for my own insensitivity.

For those of you considering reading this book, here is my warning. Mistry will seduce you with his flowing words and his gripping story. He will make you feel for his characters. He will show you a side of life that millions of people bravely struggle through. And soon you will begin to fear turning the page for fear of what might happend to the characters. And rest assured, when you turn the last page, and look for some solace, you will find none. For all is true. I have seen the Shankars and Ishvars and Oms. Go to any Indian city street corner, and you will too.
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95 of 97 people found the following review helpful By Lesley West on December 12, 2001
Format: Paperback
It was with some trepidation that I read this book, as I have frequently found Indian novels to be very heavy going and full of doom and gloom, but it was recommended by someone with very good taste, and I thought I'd take the plunge. I am very glad I did - it is the finest novel of the Indian sub-continent that I have encountered.
The lives of the main characters are certainly not easy, so I guess I must confess that there is a fair share of the aforementioned doom and gloom. But our heroes are so well drawn, so fully rounded and so full of adventure and thirst for whatever life throws at them (and it throws plenty), that you get completely sucked into the complexities of their existences.
Rohinton Mistry is a fine, talented writer. The prose flows easily, and India in all of its richness and dire poverty is there before you. It is quite an experience, not always a comfortable one, sometimes very entertaining, and all in all one I thoroughly recommend.
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339 of 375 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 9, 2002
Format: Paperback
India, a country I knew little about, haunts me since reading this book. The author captures on paper the feeling of India on every page. The sounds, the smells and the people stay with me well after the last page was turned. Unforgettable characters that evoke every type of emotion!
Rohinton Mistry meshes the lives of four people of diverse backgrounds into a bond that lasts a lifetime. The in-depth look at a culture and a people that I knew little about has brought about an understanding that I previously lacked.
Dina Dalal, widowed and determined to make it as an independent woman in a world where women have little value, becomes the unwilling glue that supports 3 other lives. Maneck Kohlah is a student, sent by his parents from his mountain village to attend school in the city. Ishvar Darji and his nephew Omprakash are tailors escaping the terror in their village by moving to the city to look for work. This unlikely group of people become dependent on each other out of necessity, their lives entangling to create the basis of the story.
This book is written with much sadness as well as humour and has touched a place in my heart. I look forward to reading more by this author in the future. Bravo!
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58 of 62 people found the following review helpful By Nearly Nubile on January 19, 2004
Format: Paperback
You know you've read an epic novel when its 5th line had you sucked hook line and sinker. This 2-time "just missed Pulitzer" masterpiece from RM was stuck in my hands until I had it smacked down to the very last word. Immaculate piece of literature, this, you'll be an instant RM convert.
Although it's named "A Fine Balance", this novella is one of those rare gems that simply blow you out of the bubble in which you lead your life -- impervious to the extremeties around you. I found myself almost living in the world of our 4 protagonists as they go go from bouquets to brickbats. Mistry's fluent and witty language only eggs you on, I found myself amused and chuckling at many points in the book, and hard as it is to admit, I even had my eyes welled up on more occasions than I can remember.

Our protagonists are simple people, mind you. A couple of tailors, a young woman who makes her life sewing, her brother who makes it in "business". The idiosynchrasies of each character, their daily peccadiloes, the minute lens with which we are exposed to their smallest emotions, joys and fears -- as a peak into the ordinary Indian life, I simply cannot imagine a more accurate or grittier novel in recent memory.
India is indeed a country where the sinister contours of social strata (the caste system, to be specific) often seem clumsy, ominous or just plain grotesque, where deep ideological divisions feed into and exacerbate ordinary social mores. Even external dangers play themselves out domestically. A Fine Balance brims with such clear-eyed, tragicomic, Dickens-like observations of the Indian fabric.
Ingenious, wholesome, and deeply moving. Not just for Indians or people interested in India, this novel is a delight to read for ANYONE even mildly interested in literature. Highly, highly recommended!
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