233 of 237 people found the following review helpful
on 20 May 2006
This is a truly great book. It chronicles the story of 4 individuals from very different sectors of the Indian Caste system.
Not only does it accurately portray the political and social situation in India in the 1970s,it reflects the predudices within the upper castes and the fatalistic attitude of the lower castes, formed from their religious beliefs that suffering is their destiny and the reward will be in the afterlife.
This story is overwhelmingly sad and also shocking as the reader can identify the ethical question of human suffering for a possibly laudable goal (in this case it is population control). However, the novel is also uplifting in a peculiar way; that individuals who struggle so hard to exist in appalling conditions can find joy in their lives is humbling. It also allows the reader to identify with the predudices and to see a situation from another side. Maybe at the end of the book, the reader feels that they have grown a little in spirit and have the capacity to be a 'better' person as a result.
For me, the mark of a great book is one that remains with you long after the back page is read. This is such a book.
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on 26 June 2007
Rohinton Mistry is an unusual voice in contemporary literature. His compassion for his characters is evident throughout his writing, going to great lengths to create tangible, likeable subjects. Whereas many other recent booker-shortlisted authors have either tried to radically play with narrative form (David Mitchell) or are ostentatious in the style of their prose (John Banville), Mistry is an invisible presence in his novels. Although he is primarily addressing the bigger picture of 1970s India under the tyrannical 'Emergency' powers imposed by Indira Ghandi, the story is told very much on the human scale. Despite some of the horrors depicted in 'A Fine Balance', Mistry does not pummel the reader with them, and the comic side of the tragedy is never far away. The lightness of touch should not be confused with flippancy, but a taste for revealing the absurd in what was everyday life for many Indians at the time and indeed now. From the monstrosity of forced sterilisation to unbelievably brutal caste violence, the author prefers modest clarity in description, allowing room for the reader's mind to do the rest. As one character observes of another: "his sentences poured out like perfect seams, holding the garment of his story together without drawing attention to the stitches". This metaphor of tailoring is central in the book; the sewing together of disparate pieces to make something beautiful, greater than a sum of its parts. There is something of Dickens in this allegorical framework, and the life and humour brought to the poor and destitute.
'A Fine Balance' begins with the unlikely union of four people from different ends of the class spectrum, and spends the first half of the book looking back into their lives. By the time the principle narrative begins, we have very tangible characters, flesh and blood in a way that many authors today are not interested in developing. All the characters are for different reasons bereft of their families, and come together as a surrogate family out of necessity: first financial and then emotional. As with Mistry's (also excellent) 'Family Matters', the family becomes the canvas onto which he can express strong political convictions, without being overtly preachy. Also similar to that book, we are drawn into the characters' successes but anxious with the sense that tragedy may be around the corner, that the rug will be once again pulled out from under our feet. "Everything ends badly," is a mantra repeated by a number of characters, but despite the tragedies love endures - just - to the final pages. Despite everything, Mistry - ex-patriated in India - seems to have a little faith in his home country. A profoundly moving novel, easily the equal of Vikram Seth's 'A Suitable Boy'. If you like this, try 'Family Matters' as well, and read William Dalrymple's 'City of Djinns' for insight into the historical context.
70 of 72 people found the following review helpful
on 10 April 2001
By far the best novel I have ever read. It is a joy to envision the milieu for this epic novel. You cannot help but be drawn to the characters and their plight. An often moving and emotional insight into the lives of India's street beggars and an excellent reminder of how deeply the caste system is embedded in this lost society. The portrayal of corruption, inherent at every juncture of 1970-80's India, leaves the reader with a sense of injustice and an added impetus to read on in the hope things may get better. A marvellous and compelling book, and a must on any bookshelf!
72 of 75 people found the following review helpful
on 5 March 2002
This novel is really fabulous. Mistry is a spectacular storyteller with a wonderful way of writing about the minutiae of daily life and weaving it into a wider picture of what was happening in India in the mid 1970s. The story is incredibly depressing - I kept turning the page in the hope that things wouldn't get any worse, but they inevitably did - but the ending provides some sort of closure and a sense of the main characters gaining some happiness in their lives. I cannot recommend this novel highly enough. Please read it!
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 18 March 2002
I loved this book. The charactors were so real that I couldn't break away from them andI was sad when the book finished. I lived in India for three years, to me, this book captures the real India. This story tells the crookedness, sorrow, and sweetness of India. When I lived there, you would see all these people on the street that are in his book and wonder how they live, what was there story? By reading this book, you feel the horrors of corruption,the struggle of everyone trying to get their share, the nightmare when things go wrong, and somehow, the hope that maybe things will get better. If you want to go to India without travelling, read this book. Even if you don't want to go to India, read this book about the strenght of the human spirit.
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on 10 February 2007
I was recommended this book over a year ago by someone who told me it was the best book he had ever read. Naturally I was intrigued and made a mental note to read it.
Finally about three weeks ago I bought the book while in India and read it within a few days. From the outset I was completely mesmerised. Mistry describes ordinary life in 1970s Mumbai (the name of the city is never mentioned but one can tell it is Mumbai from various references to parts of the city) with amazing clarity and insight; the characters are very real and I felt as though I was part of the story myself rather than just the reader of it.
I found this book totally absorbing: funny, uplifting, often shocking and ultimately tragic.
I've been thinking about it a lot since finishing it and after much consideration I think I have to agree that it is the most amazing book I've ever read...
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on 12 September 2000
This book is depressing. At the same time it is funny, charming, and haunting in a way that stays with you long after you put it down. Despite the anger that it evokes when depicting life for ordinary people as they endure the Emergency, the politics of it all is just a backdrop to the overiding theme - how the characters cope and struggle to maintain 'A fine balance between hope and despair'. I've just finished reading 'The Tortilla Curtain' by T.C. Boyle which deals in many ways with the same theme. Both these books are a study of humanity pushed to the limit, and both explore different reactions to unrelenting pressure and catastrophe. A Fine Balance is not just a slice of life in 1970s India, it is a raw chunk of life, death, and all of the stages that come in between.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 8 October 2006
This book is a beautiful, well written story demonstrating how important friendships are in difficult times. It pulls no punches, and often isn't an easy read but still manages to be an uplifting story. This is a real word-of-mouth success of a novel, one to share and cherish.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
It seems quite unnecessary to write a review of this book when there are 193 others, but the book deserves it, whether anyone reads the review or not! It is a perplexing book. I've given it five stars - which Amazon says means 'I love the book' - but I don't ; yet it is clearly of the very highest quality. The writing is beautifully fluid and precise. From the first word it draws you in, and there you stay for the 600 plus pages to the end. The central group of characters - Dina, the tailors Ishvar and Omprakash and Maneck the student - who are drawn together by circumstances and in time take strength from each other, are all engaging. There is great tenderness in the book and touches of real humour. But these four are trying to survive at the time of Indira Ghandi's State of Emergency, and this is a terrible time for the disadvantaged. The Hindu caste system, their poverty and political reality combine to bring them misery and injustice again and again. The appalling cruelty in the book, particularly that of the local lord-farmer Thakur Dhramasi who later becomes responsible for part of the government's family planning programme, horrible in itself in the way in which it was implemented, seems beyond belief, but I suspect is quite true to life. Mistry prefaces his book with a quotation from Balzac, worth referring to in full : 'Holding this book in your hand, sinking back in your soft armchair, you will say to yourself : perhaps it will amuse me. And after you have read this story of great misfortunes, you will no doubt dine well, blaming the author for your own insensitivity, accusing him of wild exaggeration and flights of fancy. But rest assured: this tragedy is not fiction. All is true.' If you read the book, that is simply chilling. But Mistry is far too good a writer to produce a catalogue of unmitigated gloom. Whole sections of the novel are light and charming, some of the descriptions of rural life away from Mumbai are delightful, and, as I said, there is humour. Yet the almost-daily indignities that the poor suffer are inescapable and they return with a horrible inexorability. There is never a dull moment in this book, and the ending is beautifully managed - I can't imagine it better written - but offers little hope, except that there is, to some extent, a sense of survival despite all. So what to make of this? I cannot adversely criticise a book for telling the truth, particularly when it does so so eloquently, but, very user-friendly in its manner, it is nonetheless no easy read.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 7 May 2007
I have not been able to put this book down. The characters are utterley believable and absorbing, so much so, that I found myself worrying about them during everyday tasks. If you enjoy a book that moves you, makes you question life and inspires you to find out more, then this is for you. This book is rich in its description, detailed and often harrowing but an experience worth