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217 of 220 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fine Balance
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...
Published on 20 May 2006 by E. Hardy

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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not a fine balance
On the whole, I enjoyed the first thirteen chapters of this book. Mistry is a talented writer who can bring the characters alive. This was one of those books where I really felt like the characters were real people that I knew. Furthermore, Mistry achieved this without interrupting the flow of the story and didn't resort to using twenty pages to describe the wrinkle of a...
Published on 4 Jan 2012 by DW2012


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5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing, 12 Sep 2014
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This review is from: A Fine Balance (Kindle Edition)
This book is amazing in every way and it tugs at every emotion - it will stay with me for a very long time.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Abandoned, but not lightly..., 3 Sep 2014
By 
FictionFan (Kirkintilloch, Scotland) - See all my reviews
(TOP 100 REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: A Fine Balance (Paperback)
Shortlisted for the 1996 Booker prize, and recommended by just about everyone who's read it, I came to this book with high expectations. I began the book on the 29th July and finally abandoned it on 1st September at just over the half-way mark. So this review is an attempt to explain why I struggled so badly with a book that apparently the whole world loves.

The book is set in the period of the late '70s/early '80s, probably in Bombay, I think, though I don't think Mistry ever actually says so. Mrs Ghandi is in power and ‘The Emergency’ has been declared – a period, it would seem, when the government was cracking down on opposition and civil liberties in general. I say 'it would seem' because again Mistry doesn't really bother to tell us about the political situation – he implies his characters are too poor or disinterested to care about politics and, since we see only through their eyes, we get only a vague, fuzzy view of what's going on. Fine, if you already have an in-depth knowledge of Indian politics of four decades ago, but unfortunately I don't.

The book starts with the coming together of four people whose stories make up the heart of the book. Dina Dalal, a widow on the edge of poverty, takes on a contract to make clothing for one of the big new companies that have taken work away from the traditional tailors. To fulfil the work, she hires two such dispossessed tailors, Ishvar and his nephew Omprakash. At the same time she takes in student Maneck, the son of an old school friend, as a paying lodger. The first half of the book is taken up with the backstories of these characters, explaining what tragedies have led them to this point. And when I say tragedies, boy, do I mean tragedies. Rape, murder, all forms of cruelty, racial and religious attacks, threatened incest – all human misery is here, often several times over. But these poor people don't realise this has actually been the good part of their lives – things are going to get worse...

Mistry's writing style is very good. The descriptions of these awful lives in this horrible country are detailed and convincing. So convincing, in fact, that one is left wondering why anyone would choose to go on living at all. Each day is a joyless burden, filled with nastiness and filth. There are only two groups of people in this country: the oppressors and the oppressed. No hope, no chance for escape from the degradations and privations that increase with every passing day. Not a picture of India that I recognise from other novels, the best of which do show the extreme poverty and huge inequalities, but also show the diversity and even vibrancy of the country as a whole.

The characterisation is strong in the sense that each of the four main protagonists is well delineated and their behaviour is consistent with their past experiences. But the problem is that Mistry clearly has a political agenda and the characters are no more than puppets. I felt that Mistry had started with a list of all the bad things about life under Mrs Ghandi, added all the different ways people can be nasty to each other, and then dumped all this misery on the heads of this tiny group of characters. I'm sure all these bad things happened, indeed still do, but I'm equally sure they don't happen every single day to the same people. If there's a riot, they'll be caught up in it. If a slum is pulled down, it'll be their slum. If a father is murdered for being the wrong caste, it'll be their father. If a wife is raped for being poor...well, you get my point. Even if one of them pauses to make friends with a dog, you can be sure the dog will die hideously within a chapter. The strange result of this was that I didn't care what happened to any of them, because I didn't believe in them as people – merely as fairground ducks for Mistry to shoot over and over again.

I've had a long, long time to think about why I found it so difficult to pick the book up and read even a few pages each day, and the conclusion I've come to is that the book lacks two fundamental necessaries. Firstly, there is no plot. There is simply a description of the miserable lives of these miserable people – we're not heading towards, or even away from, anything. And secondly, there is no glimmer of hope. I'm not suggesting there should be a happy ending with them all becoming rich and happy, but there has to be a possibility of something in the future that would make their present lives worth the horrible daily struggle. But there isn't – it's crystal clear that things are going to get worse and worse until Mistry finally runs out of things to torment them with; at which point they will be abandoned to their miserable fates. (When I decided to give up, I flicked ahead to the end to see if I was being unfair – I wasn't.) I'm a political animal, so I love novels that include an element of politics in them. But there must be something else in them too – otherwise it's not a novel. This book is about one important sector of society, the poor, at a particular point of Indian history; but I got no overall picture of the society, no understanding of why the political situation had reached this stage, no glimmer of what opposition might be in train. As an extremely lengthy description of how awful life can be for people caught up in hopeless poverty and cruelty, full marks. But then we already know that, don't we? We watch the news...don't we? A novel needs to be more than that, surely? It needs to tell us what we don't already know – it needs to make us think…to care. And ultimately this one doesn't...

" ‘Sometimes you have to use your failures as stepping-stones to success. You have to maintain a fine balance between hope and despair.' He paused, considering what he had just said. ‘Yes’ he repeated. ‘In the end, it's all a question of balance.’ "

For me, Mistry failed to achieve a balance – the book is too heavily weighted towards misery and despair. The quality of the characterisation and descriptive writing makes me feel that my 1-star rating is harsh, but since I can’t bring myself to finish the book, I feel it’s the only rating I can give it.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A lovely journey, 23 Sep 2014
By 
Mr. Ian Kenyon (united kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Fine Balance (Kindle Edition)
Engrossing but sad. An insightful look at the life from all levels in India. Enjoy this book as I did.
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5.0 out of 5 stars It's Been Emotional!, 2 Mar 2010
This review is from: A Fine Balance (Paperback)
I found this book very moving. I veered between feeling happy, sad, annoyed and elated - loved it!
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5.0 out of 5 stars excellent and haunting story-telling, 29 Mar 2009
By 
Clive Kirby (uk) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Fine Balance (Paperback)
This is a wonderfully written book by any standard and undoubtedly one of mistrys best novels
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 29 Sep 2014
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This review is from: A Fine Balance (Paperback)
It's brilliant. Get it. It's heart wrenching at times, but I've never read a story like it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous!, 20 Oct 2008
By 
M. J. Martin "Sarah" (Oxford, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Fine Balance (Paperback)
Excellent book. The best read I have had for many years - couldn't put it down.
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7 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Plumbing the depths of human existence, 9 April 2011
By 
Sofia (Bristol, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A Fine Balance (Paperback)
Rohinton Mistry's "A Fine Balance" is a tremendously well-read and well-loved novel. I came to it late on the back of a wealth of recommendations as this review page demonstrates. And yes, it's a well-written, engaging book, with vividly described, credible characters. Yes, it's a story across the caste system of India and yes, there's plenty of drama.

However, it is also one of the bleakest books I have read. The widow, Dina, and her tailor employees, Ishvar and Om are engaged in a constant battle against the society of their times to keep their heads above water. Theirs isn't a quest for prosperity or opportunity, it's a battle for independence and survival. They are joined by a lodger, Maneck, who's more prosperous and idealistic, but is he resilient enough to stand up to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune? You'll have to read the book of course.

So, I would say, read it for its language, its description, its character detail but don't read it if you're depressed and don't read it if you're a great fan of India, because this is as damning a condemnation of a country as I have ever read. It doesn't surprise me in the least that Mr Mistry now resides in Canada, because the India he describes here is one you wouldn't go near with a barge-pole.
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9 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good but harrowing, 26 Nov 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: A Fine Balance (Paperback)
Having just finished the book I am left feeling almost as full of despair as some of the characters. That points to the greatest strength and weakness of the book. On the one hand, it is very well written, drawing the reader into the narrative and making you really feel for the characters. But the flip side is that the actual plot is an unrelenting tale of misery as the author heaps injustice and torment onto the poor inhabitants of the tale. Whereas most authors would tell a story of winning some sort of salvation through hardship, Mistry seems to be intent on extinguishing any possible hope with irreversable actions. Indeed, one is almost left feeling that Mistry must have taken sadistic delight in dreaming up the next episode with which to inflict both his protagonists and his readers. Even the epilogue seems to have been intentionally written to hammer home the last nail in the coffin as the one character who seems to have gotten through the book with the least loss and who, just a few pages before seemed to be planning for his future with some hope, suddenly succumbs to fatal despair.
I have given it 4 stars because it is a well written book, but frankly I am left feeling that I would rather not have read it.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars WELL WRITTEN BUT ENDS IN UNREMITTING MISERY, 29 Dec 2009
This book is well written, Mistry is a talented writer. But even the way he writes is truly shocking. For instance, a picture of a person is drawn up over many pages, so that you really feel a rapport with that character and his forays against adversity. But then there is the shock of suddenly being assaulted in a single paragraph with the details of the terrible, cruel and unjust end that he comes too. It tears your guts out.

The book ends in total misery for all the characters you have come to know and love. Don't read it unless you have the ability(?) to be unmoved by such, and can just compartmentalise it as a microcosm of life in India at the time.
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A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
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