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A Fine Balance

4.34  ·  Rating Details ·  99,061 Ratings  ·  6,761 Reviews
With a compassionate realism and narrative sweep that recall the work of Charles Dickens, this magnificent novel captures all the cruelty and corruption, dignity and heroism, of India.

The time is 1975. The place is an unnamed city by the sea. The government has just declared a State of Emergency, in whose upheavals four strangers--a spirited widow, a young student uproote
Paperback, 603 pages
Published November 30th 2001 by Vintage (first published September 1st 1995)
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Martine Taylor
This answer contains spoilers… (view spoiler)
John Seers Like in the UK, a person close to a family might be called Uncle by the children - even though there is no blood relationship.

I think it is a bit…more
Like in the UK, a person close to a family might be called Uncle by the children - even though there is no blood relationship.

I think it is a bit more formal in India and conveys a measure of respect for the adult.

Uncle is also used for men in India in the same way. (less)
The God of Small Things by Arundhati RoyA Fine Balance by Rohinton MistryThe White Tiger by Aravind AdigaMidnight's Children by Salman RushdieThe Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
Best Indian Books
2nd out of 682 books — 2,140 voters
The Kite Runner by Khaled HosseiniA Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled HosseiniA Fine Balance by Rohinton MistryThe God of Small Things by Arundhati RoyThe Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
Best South Asian Fiction
3rd out of 505 books — 1,613 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Aug 16, 2007 Z rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone looking for a deep and complex read
Shelves: favourites

I stayed up all night to finish this book, because the climax is simply unputdownable. I am hesitant to formally review it because it's one of those few books that can't be confined within the bounds of a critique or summary, and one that is so magnificent and moving that the idea of reviewing it makes me feel insolent already! So I'll just note what I feel about the book, and the kind of effect it's had on me.

It's grim. Very grim. There are moments of tragicomedy, of overjoyed glimpses of the s
But rest assured: This tragedy is not a fiction. All is True.

Hence started my journey of a fine book, A Fine Balance. I have no sane excuse for my ignorance about Rohinton Mistry novels. I just didn’t have a single clue about him or his achievements till I joined Goodreads. Yes!! Though it’s not a big deal as one is not supposed to know everything but here’s a writer of Indian origin, writing unbelievably great books about Indians and is still remain unacknowledged by a common Indian reader is
Jeffrey Keeten
Aug 08, 2015 Jeffrey Keeten rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“You see, we cannot draw lines and compartments and refuse to budge beyond them. 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.’ ”

 photo ElephantBalancing_zpsda454c56.jpg
A Fine Balance

I sometimes take a moment to focus on the corner of my office. The way the two walls come together forming a line, a demarcation. I think of it as bringing
Feb 20, 2013 Jason rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Liking this book makes no sense. Not only are its characters subjected to like, the bleakest set of circumstances ever, but then those circumstances are presented to the reader with such an alarming degree of authorial detachment that you almost have to wonder whether Mistry himself—fed up with the unending series of hardships his characters are required to endure—didn’t just raise his arms in the air and say, “Oh, fuck it.” And yet I could not tear myself away from this train wreck.

A Fine Balan
Riku Sayuj

“Poor naked wretches, wheresoe’er you are,

That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,

How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,

Your looped and windowed raggedness, defend you

From seasons such as these? O, I have ta’en

Too little care of this! Take physic, pomp;

Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,

That thou mayst shake the superflux to them

And show the heavens more just.”

~ King Lear

“Why did I dislike him so much, she asked herself? Where humans were concerned, the only emotion that
Ben Babcock
Dec 29, 2010 Ben Babcock rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Ben by: Vesna Sukalo
This is probably the most depressing book I have ever read in my entire life. Not only is its chronicling of four lives bleak and without the slightest hint of hope or redemption, but it does this with a comprehensive scope and an unforgiving manner. Even re-reading it, knowing what was going to happen, did not mitigate my sadness. If anything, it amplified my emotions, because for all of the good things that happen in this book, the moments of joy, I knew how it was all going to go wrong. And t ...more
OMGOSH! Definitely a five star read for me, but all of my emotions are shot to hell. Did a world like this really exist in 1970's India? Heaven forbid!

Rohinton Mistry introduces his four main characters and their individual stories one by one until they merge together sharing a cramped apartment in a world of starvation, suffering and despair.

With civil unrest and demonstrations against a corrupt government on the rise, our protagonists needlessly endure despicable injustices to both body and so

Paul Bryant
May 06, 2011 Paul Bryant rated it it was amazing
Rohinton Mistry has written three whopping novels set in India, Such a Long Journey, A Fine Balance, and Family Matters, and they're all brilliant. He doesn't have pyrotechnic prose like the DeLillos and Pynchons, he's the tortoise to their hares, he plods on with his careful beautiful pictures of the details of people's lives, the complexities and the horrors and the unnoticed pools of affection, where the money comes from and where it goes, how they get through the day and how they don't - his ...more
Nov 14, 2015 Gautam rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, indian-lit

A man with paralyzed legs lies on his itchy straw bed, staring at the murky ceiling that seems closing in on him, as his eyes have been fixating it for too long. The time seems reluctant to move on as there is no sign of movements around him; the world seems to have divorced him. His room has no windows that rewarded him with a view of a green patch or a shimmering rivulet to vouch for his existence. The life, as it seems, has no prospect, he thought. As the bleak moments ostensibly passed, he,
Jun 30, 2012 Kris rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, 1001, india, favorites
This is a compelling novel. Mistry focuses the story around the lives and interactions of four main characters, who cross paths in an unnamed city in India in 1975 during the State of Emergency. Mistry is unsparing in details of how difficult, even cruel, life is for these characters. Their opportunities are constrained by caste, gender, government corruption locally and across the country, and greed. In detailed flashbacks, Mistry describes the pasts of the characters with such humanity that it ...more
Stephen P
Aug 31, 2015 Stephen P rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
A book, along with two others which mysteriously appeared on my living room couch. My wife, equally at a loss had no idea where they came from. No one had been to the house previously, certainly not the dear family friend who just finished A Fine Balance and asked if I would read it. Reluctantly taking a break from Walser and The Tanners, I began my 600 page responsibility to a person who has always been there for us.

The book's first four pages were partially folded from use, not to signify any
This book was like a punch in the gut, or a hard kick to the balls. The kind where you double over dry heaving. That's how powerful it was.

Mistry's novel traces the lives of four people over the period of about one year when they come together under one roof. That one year is also year one into Indira Ghandi's State of Emergency, declared after the Indian Supreme Court rules her election illegal.

There are some excellent set peices. notgettingenough's review describes one. I won't repeat it here
Nidhi Singh
Feb 15, 2015 Nidhi Singh rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, india, 2014
This was life? Or a cruel joke? He no longer believed that the scales would ever balance fairly. If his pan was not empty, if there was some little sustenance in it for his days and nights, it was enough for him.

This is one book that made me want to clutch the life I live, as some blanket of security, and hide within. I have never known what it is to live with such constant uncertainty. That one could be completely uprooted today, the next day, or any day. Each day of struggle, each day of bui
Kelli Oliver George
Mar 05, 2008 Kelli Oliver George rated it really liked it
WOW. Beautiful. Haunting. Sad. Compelling. Interesting. Educational. This book covers the stories of four characters living in India during the mid-70s during a time in which Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declares a State of Emergency and in its name, countless human rights violations were committed. I am not sure I can say much that would do this book proper justice. It certainly had what I refer to as The Linger Factor. After I finished it, I sat thinking about it for awhile. When I woke up at ...more
Jun 20, 2013 notgettingenough rated it it was amazing
Shelves: modern-lit, indian
Maybe this review, about exploitation as much as anything, should have stayed on this site...


(I am told some sort of word minimum is necessary on this site. In order to conform....

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Jan 22, 2015 rahul rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
As I scramble for words to speak of this book and even manage to get hold of some. I wait till they fall from my tongue into the depths of infinite hopelessness.

And someday, I hope these words will find me again. These words, these thoughts will help me accept the despair that is this thing called life.
Nov 15, 2015 Algernon rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015

Let me tell you a secret: there is no such thing as an uninteresting life.

Interesting doesn’t even begin to describe the eventful and painful year in the lives of four Mumbai residents, at the times of the Emergency – a period of civil unrest and government crackdown declared by the Prime Minister of India in 1975 as a final straw in her efforts to keep her political power in the face of vigorous opposition. While the politicians are playing their high stakes games, it is the simple people w
1975. India. The Great emergency. Martial Law. Murder-on-instinct; survival of the fittest. The old, disabled, the poor - fair game. Political mayhem. Family Planning Program going as insane as the population explosion. Riots, violence, families destroyed. Chaos. A Beautification Program chasing people with bulldozers like unwanted sewerage down the isles of perfection. Their lives worth less than the holy cows meandering the trash heaps and destitution of the destruction everywhere.

Despair in
Jul 14, 2008 Savanna rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Savanna by: Sarah McConnell and Sara Lozito
Unlike many of the Indian novels I have read, this book focuses on the Emergency years under Indira Gandhi. Mistry’s characters live through the terrifying campaigns of forced sterilization and “beautification” (slum destruction). But there is more to the novel than the abuses that occurred during the Emergency. Mistry takes the reader into the world of rural India in the 1960s and 70s where challenges to the caste system often resulted in beating, maiming, and sometimes death. He describes the ...more
What an unreliable thing is time - when I want it to fly, the hours stick at me like glue. And what a changeable thing, too. Time is the twine to tie our lives into parcels of years and months. Or a rubber band stretched to suit our fancy. Time can be a pretty ribbon in a little girl's hair. Or the lines in your face,stealing your youthful colour and your hair. But in the end, time is a noose around the neck, strangling slowly.

I have just finished reading this book by an author who wrote the a
Alice Poon
Aug 08, 2016 Alice Poon rated it it was amazing

This is one of those heartrending books that would be burned into my memory. The story of the four main characters is told in a calm, understated and sometimes dry-humored tone, but the characters, their poignant back stories as well as the settings just jump right off the page. The whirlpool of corrupt and brutal politics, the inhumane caste system, ethnic hatred, sexual abuses, abject poverty and social despair gives the narrative a pulsating realism that keeps the reader well-grounded in its
K.D. Absolutely
Jul 18, 2015 K.D. Absolutely rated it it was amazing
Recommended to K.D. by: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, 501 Must Read Books
I have nothing but praise for this book. This is the book that makes me a reader. No matter how busy I am, I will always be a reader if the book that I have is similar to this. Take away my Facebook account. Take away the online games (Clash of Clans, Angry Bird, Plants Vs Zombies). Take away the television (The Voice Kids, Nathaniel, Pangako sa Yo). But give me this kind of book and I will be a happy camper. I can read all day and night in a corner and will not bother you even in a single minut ...more
Oct 16, 2016 Snotchocheez rated it it was amazing
5 stars

(completely forgot to review this; too busy trying to un-depress myself).

If you were following along with some of my updates for Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance, you might've detected a bit of my cynicism poking through toward the end of this 600 page behmoth novel of India's woes. I was starting to reach a breaking point: how much calcuated heartache could Misery (*ahem*) Mistry throw at the reader and not expect an emotional backlash?

Yeah (Lobstergirl), this is probably one of the m
Jul 07, 2012 Sue rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: readers who enjoy history, historical fiction, India
What to say about such an overwhelming book.

It is a masterfully written story of four people who happen to come together in the 1970s in India. Of course there are more than four people involoved in this tale of everyday life, death, misery, occasional happiness, government excess and cruelty in the most densely populated country on earth. The four are: Dina, middle-aged at 30 and struggling to maintain her independence; Maneck a 17 year old student who will take a room in her apartment; and Ish
Apr 24, 2015 Jaidee rated it liked it

3 "tragedy diminished by histrionics" stars.

I know this is a good book and that Mr. Mistry is an excellent writer. The use of language is mostly elegant, vivid and the stories interweave in a logical and natural way. There was not a dull moment to be had in this sprawling saga set in 1970s India. The characters were likable and their struggles are real, heart-wrenching and horrendous.

I have a HUGE issue though with the presentation of the characters' emotional and psychological lives. Although a
My all time favourite book, without doubt! Magnificent, Educational, Interesting, Very Sad.....The setting 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 ...more
Memories were permanent. Sorrowful ones remained sad even with the passing of time, yet happy ones could never be recreated – not with the same joy. Remembering bred its own peculiar sorrow. It seemed so unfair: that time should render both sadness and happiness into a source of pain.

In many ways this sums up the feel of A Fine Balance, which is helpful because it goes some way to explain why I thoroughly enjoyed every page of this epic tragedy. While the disasters kept piling up -- from simple
Mar 19, 2013 Dolors rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2012
Four people from very different backgrounds cross their paths for a year during the seventies in India, and as we learn of their pasts, their presents and eventually of their futures, we get to know the political and social situation during that turbulent period in one of the poorest countries of the world.

I agree with most of the positive reviews when they say that this story is a faithful portrait of what might have been like to live in the India of the 70's and 80's (a complete nightmare), an
Jan 18, 2014 Jean rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone with a beating heart
This is one of my favorite books. It will absolutely gut you from beginning to end. The characters are complicated and melancholic but also lovable and deeply loved by one another. The suffering is so real; some succumb to it while others do not.

I read an article by Umberto Eco stating that a good book's title should be as neutral and non-informative as possible. The reader decides what she is reading about and what it means. In this case, though, I disagree. The title is necesarily spot-on, sa
This is about as close to an epic Victorian novel as modern fiction gets.

Mistry weaves together the stories of four main protagonists whose fates are thrown together by the upheavals of India's Emergency in 1975. Dina is a Parsee widow, with a rich family but struggling to maintain her independence in her late husband's flat. She employs Ishvar and Om, two tailors taking refuge from their rural community after reprisals following their family's refusal to conform to the expectations of their lo
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Rohinton Mistry is considered to be one of the foremost authors of Indian heritage writing in English. Residing in Brampton, Ontario, Canada, Mistry belongs to the Parsi Zoroastrian religious minority.

Mistry’s first novel, Such a Long Journey (1991), brought him national and international recognition. Mistry’s subsequent novels have achieved the same level of recognition as his first. His second n
More about Rohinton Mistry...

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“The human face has limited space. If you fill it with laughter there will be no room for crying.” 1198 likes
“Flirting with madness was one thing; when madness started flirting back, it was time to call the whole thing off.” 338 likes
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