David Grimaud's Reviews > A Fine Balance

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
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Jul 30, 11

Read in December, 2009

A FINE BALANCE is a fine book. The central setting is Mumbai, India, during the period of “The Emergency” under the administration of Prime Minister Indira Gahndi. (This is understood, though, her name is never actually mentioned.) There are four central characters that are brought together by circumstance into the apartment of Dina Dali, a young widow struggling to maintain her independence from her older brother. She becomes a contractor to a clothing manufacturer, eventually hiring two tailors, Ishvar Darji and his nephew Omprakash from the Chamaar caste of untouchables. To help pay the rent, Dina also takes o a tenant, Maneck Kohlah, a teenage boy and the nephew of an old school friend. Maneck is enrolled in trade school, the only child of shop keepers who live in the north.

Mistry excels in character building and story telling, using these techniques to develop the plot and express his point of view of life in India during this time of turmoil. The characters fight the adverse conditions granted them by birth and circumstance which are assisted by an uncaring and corrupt government. During their year together, the four manage to navigate through this adversity, becoming a cooperative, caring, family unit. The book ends abruptly, not as happily as one would hope, yet, we understand this to be the result of poor choices made by one of the characters.

A host of colorful, minor characters populate the plot, and again, Mistry excels. I will not soon forget the delightful, legless beggar, Shkar, or his introspective Beggarmaster, the crazy Monkey-man, nor the villainous Thakur Premji, as well as the others.

There are some points to criticize. Mistry oversimplifies some situations and over-explains some of the interactions which a thinking reader may find annoying. There are also too many unexplained coincidences, for instance, how easily Maneck “bumps into” many of the minor characters upon his return to the old neighborhood in the final chapter, “Epilogue 1984.” Nonetheless, Mistry is a superior writer, using his strong points to make a point while telling a good story. This is an excellent book by which to introduce a “growing” reader to the world of serious literature.
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