Book Review: A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

A Fine Balance, by Rohinton Mistry

Nominated for the Booker Prize. On Oprah’s Book Club.

As the Guardian put it, the book is “A masterpiece of illumination and grace. Like all great fiction, it transforms our understanding of life”.

After reading the 600+ pages of the book, one may say that this is an understatement. The essence of the book can be summarized in the words of one of the Yeats-spouting characters: “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 to that one big calamity we call life”.

However, the story about four strangers, whose lives intersect in a very strange manner, is spell-binding. You can get completely engrossed in their day-to-day struggles, prodded along by a cast of supporting characters, who are as colorful as they are diverse. Even though each of the supporting characters could be spun off into their own story, Mistry brings them in and out of the lives of the main characters with ease, leaving you wondering about what in their lives caused this behavior.

Mistry gives enough attention to detail – describing the surroundings and the daily struggles so well that one wonders how much research was put into the book. Being a Parsi, Mistry’s detailed description of Dina’s life is understandable, but his description of the other two main characters is straight out of a Satyajit Ray movie -at times, it becomes hard to separate fact from fiction.

As Shakespeare says in King Lear, the wheel comes a full circle, in the end.

The human misery is described well, but maybe Mistry wrote this book in a dark frame of mind – there are brief flashes of kindness and gaiety – but most of the book, including its ending, will make you question your emotions.

Definitely not a book to be read on a Spring afternoon, surrounded by vibrant flowers and chirping birds – for that gives a new meaning to life…this is a book to be read when you feeling melancholy – and can empathize with the characters, being a part of their daily struggle for things we take for granted.

So get a glass of good vino, and prepare to dive in the lives of Dina, Ishvar, Maneck and Om – and be ready to shed a tear or two…

– Raj Bhandari

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