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A Fine Balance

4.34  ·  Rating details ·  134,842 ratings  ·  9,381 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 1995)
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Martine Taylor
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Kamran Rahman I'm from an Indian/Pakistani family. Auntie/Uncle conveys respect, affection and relationship at the same time. In South Asian culture people are rare…moreI'm from an Indian/Pakistani family. Auntie/Uncle conveys respect, affection and relationship at the same time. In South Asian culture people are rarely referred to by their names in social situations, especially if they're older than you. It would be considered rude if you didn't add some sort of term of respect or affection to the way you address someone. So, Auntie/Uncle says that you respect the person as a member of an elder generation and that you love them almost as much as a member of your family.(less)

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Average rating 4.34  · 
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Aug 16, 2007 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
Jeffrey Keeten
Jun 05, 2014 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 bringi
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
Like most Americans, I remember clearly the date September 11, 2001. I recall where I was standing when I first heard about the attack on the Twin Towers. My first child, a son, was almost eight months old at the time. My first reaction was fear; later, sorrow and grief set in. In my mind ran the thought that life as I knew it would never be the same again. My son would grow up in a world dominated by the unknown and the constant threat of danger. How could I possibly protect him from such uncer ...more
Dec 15, 2012 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
Kara Babcock
May 16, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Kara 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
Paul Bryant
Sep 27, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: novels, bookers
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
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 th
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

Kevin Ansbro
Because it wasn't an unputdownable, hold-you-in-its-thrall page-turner, this novel took me weeks to finish.
My only real issue was that I loved the writing WAY more than the actual story.
And what’s not to like about Mistry's beautifully-crafted prose? I drooled over his penmanship and revelled in his wordplay. Like Rushdie and Shakespeare, he intermingles pathos with humour.

The story, though, didn’t grab me by the ears and snog me.
Which is why it drops one star.
Elyse  Walters
Nov 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing

TOO HARD *NOT* TO SHARE SOMETHING ( even for a review-retiree),....

There are a million things I loved about this book.
I chewed and sipped slowly.... pausing to ponder little moments:
“He speaks to trees and rocks, and pats them like they were his dogs”.

I relate to ‘aging’ ownership with nature.
My tree in our front yard & I have been growing old together for 40 years. Our trunks are both thicker. Our leaves more brittle - Our love & stories with d
Feb 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: indian-lit, favorites

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,
This book is an exercise in emotional overload. I had to read it one section at a time, interspersed with breaks to digest and recover. Every moment in this book that is happy or positive is offset with ten sadnesses and cruelties that rip your breath from your body.

The four main characters, Dina, Maneck, Ishvar and Om, are drawn with so much detail and clarity, that I felt by the end that I had traveled a road with them and knew them intimately. They are far from being the only characters to ha
Stephen P(who no longer can participate due to illness)
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
Dec 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: india, 2014, favorites
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
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
Jun 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
One of my favourite books. I am happy to have my copy signed by Rohinton Mistry. This story takes us to the streets of Bombay in the 70's. A story that intertwines the life of four people during a time of political unrest. It casts a very descriptive view of life in India at that time. ...more
Sep 04, 2013 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
Apr 24, 2014 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.
Kelli Oliver George
Mar 05, 2008 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
Jul 16, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: indian, modern-lit
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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Algernon (Darth Anyan)
Sep 01, 2013 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
Helene Jeppesen
May 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
One of the best books I’ve read so far this year!! <3
K.D. Absolutely
Aug 01, 2009 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
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
Mar 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
You need to maintain a fine balance between hope and despair says one of the characters in the book. And that is what this book does to you – shifting you between hope and despair for it’s characters all through the book. This is the only book I have read which really aims to accord respect to the lives of the poor and downtrodden.

The narration starts around the time when emergency is declared in India. We have Dina Dilal, the strongest character in the book who holds fort despite a marriage of
Jul 14, 2008 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
Oct 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites
Walking down the streets of “the city by the sea” from Mistry’s novel, I have often found myself wondering about the lives of others—it is hard not to, for the streets are constantly abuzz with waves of comings and goings; a formidable sea of anonymous faces one feels inclined to try on, tempted to trace the shape of the lives they inhabit and the dreams they’ve come here to chase. Yet, it is not these lives and faces—harrowed, hungry, and hopeful, spilling along the pavements—that feature in th ...more
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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

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