Aug 16, 07
anyone looking for a deep and complex read
Read in January, 2006
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 sun on a very grey day, but it's not a happy story, and it makes no pretensions to being one. The heartwrenching ending had me involuntarily wondering what kind of person would want to write a bleak tale like that -- and then I understood Mistry's message through the book, that this is fiction, but not made-up; this is a novel, but larger-than-life; this is yesterday, persisting into today and reaching out its long clammy fingers into tomorrow.
Life's vicissitudes toss four unlikely companions into one living space, a dingy little flat, in the "City by the Sea," Bombay. Widow Dina Dalal has lived for decades in solitude, barely making ends meet, watching the sun rise and set everyday with the same transparent indifference; college-student Maneck Kohlah has left his much-loved life and his family's little general store in the Himalayas to study air-conditioning and refrigeration in the city, a course that his father believes will equip him to deal with a world that is hell-bent on destroying nature to further technology; tailors Ishvar and Omprakash Darji, uncle and nephew, have left their village, and their traditional "untouchable" occupation of tanning animal hides to seek their fortunes in this city of dreams and earn enough money to go home and live more comfortably. This is the story of how these four people find family in each other, find friendship, laughter, and a courage to struggle and persevere despite all their troubles. This is the story of shattered dreams, of Indira Gandhi's cruel Emergency, of how each person's life is webbed and entangled in its own drama, of caste, poverty, and a positive survival instinct corroded into a dog-eat-dog mentality that strangulates, just as time itself does.
Many parts of the book brought tears to my eyes, but by the time I finished it, I was actually sobbing. Somewhere in these six hundred pages the reader becomes friends with the characters, begins to share their joys and sorrows, and desperately wish for a happy ending that he/she knows, deep down, is not to be.
This is a life-changing read, and one that I would be truly sorry to see anyone miss out on.