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Such a Long Journey Paperback – June 2, 1992
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Mistry does something that only the really natural writers can do: without apparent effort, manipulation or contrivance, he creates characters you like instantly and will gladly follow for as long as the novel leads. The book is about an Indian family during the years of Indira Ganhdi's rule; it's also a study of the times, its politics and corruption, and was especially interesting for me, who knows so little about life in the rest of the world. It had to be a good book: after I read Such a Long Journey, I wanted to go right out and buy a plane ticket and see India for myself.
From Publishers Weekly
Short-listed for the Booker Prize, this intelligent fictional portrait of the corrupt aspects of Indira Gandhi's regime focuses on a bank clerk who becomes a secret operative as an Indian-Pakistan war threatens in 1971.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Gustad Noble, a Parsi living in Bombay with his wife and three children has been a good and honorable man . But as the novel begins, life for his family and him begins to unravel: He has dreams for his eldest son—dreams that his son doesn't share; Gustad works as a bank clerk and although he earns a salary, the family must budget tightly to make ends meet. When his daughter becomes ill, Gustad's wife must sell some gold bracelets to buy medicine. Asked by an intermediary to do a favor for a close friend who had suddenly disappeared, he hesitantly agrees, and thus finds his life becoming more and more entangled with a government about to go to war.
Mistry takes you deep inside the family and their friends. The reader comes to understand the conflicting motivations, the misunderstandings, the pettiness, and the pain of each character and in turn, the reader feels that pain and anger and bitterness (and joy, when it comes, albeit infrequently).
What makes Mistry so great to read is the respect and empathy he has for his characters. As a reader, you share this empathy and feel rewarded by being so intimately connected to people whose lives are so very different from yours.
Readers who delight in plot development may be disappointed. There are plots and subplots of sorts in this book -- will Noble's son reject a shot at an engineering degree? will his daughter regain her health? will a former neighbor, now in New Delhi, be found out as a good guy or a bad guy? will a prized homage to spirituality survive the wrecker's ball? will the bank manager learn the truth about some misguided deposits and spill the beans? will the simpleton get the, uh, girl? -- but, to me at least, these stories appear and drift away without careful crafting or much urgency in the telling. Rather, Mistry uses his plot lines more as opportunities to describe modern Indian society, in its complexity, and Noble's passage through it.
Mistry's central characters are full, interesting, and idiosyncratic. His minor characters -- the politically active prostitutes, the apartment dweller practicing the black arts, the bureaucrats and politicians, the speedtalking simpleton -- are persons we have seen before. Excellent political satire sometimes veers toward cartoons. Still, sentence by sentence, Mistry writes well and with sensitivity to his characters' inner lives.
This is not world-class fiction, but it is a good read, especially for persons with an international bent who are not put off by detail.