December 20, 2011

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

Wow.  What a powerful, heartbreaking, amazing book.

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry is one of the best pieces of literature that I have read in a long time.  With 600 pages and covering topics such as abject poverty and every day life in the corrupt regime of Indira Gandhi, this is not light reading.

The first chapter starts off with a chance meeting between two tailors, a woman seeking to hire tailors and find a renter, and a young man looking to rent a room.  The first third of the novel or so details each of their histories and backgrounds, sometimes even tracing all the way back to the lives of their grandparents.  These beautifully written and often tragic stories provide a rich understanding of who these characters are.  The rest of the book deals with the four characters working and living with each other for the next year. 

The title could refer to many things, but what I saw as the most prevalent theme was the fine line between hope and despair.  At what point do you give up and decide things are hopeless?  So much of the book is sad, depressing and upsetting, from violent caste killings to forced sterilizations.  As a reader, you keep rooting for the characters even if you know that happily ever after is probably not in their future.  You just keep hoping that they find some peace and a small bit of happiness. 

The details are rich and the setting of India in the 1970's is compelling and interesting--I didn't know much about it before now.  This is definitely not a happy book.  It made me keenly aware the privilege in my life, of having a safe and secure place to live and always having enough to eat.  I highly recommend this book for anyone with a love of literature (as long as you are okay with bleak stories). 

five stars
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