It’s been almost a month, but I finally finished A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry yesterday afternoon. It was a fairly lengthy book, but one I probably would have been able to finish in a week and a half or so if presentations, finals, and home buying hadn’t gotten in the way.
This is another book that was given to me, this time by a co-worker. I read the synopsis on the back cover (a bad habit of mine) before diving into the pages, but I still didn’t know much of what the book was about.
Other than a few flashbacks toward the beginning of the book and a jump into the future in the epilogue, the story is set in the mid-1970s in India. It focuses on four main characters: a college student from the mountains, two tailors trying to escape caste system violence in their village, and a widow trying to make a living without asking her elder brother for help. Mistry tells the history of these characters, how they came to be together, and the relationships they formed along the way. Through these characters, you see the corruptness of the city officials and politicians – tearing down slums for “beautification”, collecting the newly homeless people for slave labor, and enforcing mass sterilization.
Between all of the bad things that happened to the characters and the crude male humor spattered throughout the book, there were a few times when I wanted to stop reading. But I didn’t. Because of the situations the characters kept finding themselves in and all of the interesting relationships they formed with minor characters along the way, I overlooked the things that made me uncomfortable.
Aside from the crude humor, I found Mistry’s writing style to be quite eloquent for the subject of the book. Many times I found myself reflecting on certain passages because they touched me in some way (see previous post about favorite quotes). And even though many of the events that occurred throughout the book were sad and depressing, Mistry displayed humor and generosity through the characters, making the story more bearable to read.
I honestly didn’t think I was going to like this book, but I enjoyed it a lot (and we’re back to the “wanting to learn about different cultures” thing). Although there was some back and forth about what to do with the book now that I’ve finished it, I’ve decided to keep it. Only it’s going to live on a bookshelf at work. I already have a professor wanting to borrow it.