“A Fine Balance” by Rohinton Mistry

AFineBalanceWikipedia notes that the background for this Booker prize-shortlisted novel is Bombay, between 1975 and 1984. This was a time known as The Emergency – a period of expanded government power and crackdowns on civil liberties, called by the Indian Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi. However, neither Bombay or Gandhi are referred to by name in the book, and our understanding of the time is instead driven by the interweaving fictional stories of a number of well-drawn characters.

Ishvar and his nephew Omprakash are two struggling tailors, who have defied the caste system to raise themselves and been forced to fleed their rural village to follow a precarious existence in the big city. They find employment with a widow,  Dina Dala, who has likewise rebelled against convention, insisting on making her own way alone rather than relying upon her overbearing brother. Finally, Maneck Kohlah is a young student, who has left behind both the beautiful surroundings of a mountain town and the stultifying traditionalism of his father’s store. We get the background story to each of our individual characters, before they are brought together and go on to struggle against adversity and circumstance.  

We read this in November 2015.

The six people who attended our meeting thought fairly highly of the book.  We all thought it was very readable and with some interesting characters. The plot though does include some very disturbing and deeply sad events which some of us found quite overwhelming. Jill in particular found the last 100-pages or so very difficult to read.

Three more readers hadn’t finished the book (which admittedly is a “chunky” read) and didn’t join the meeting. All though sent emails to say that they were enjoying the book – Bill admired  the story, the characters, the backdrop, the context and the pacing.

Not surprisingly, our individual scores were all on the high side, in a very narrow range of 8 to 9. The average score, based on 8 readers, was 8.5.

Some further background and trivia…

Bookdrum gives details of the likely settings for the book (thanks to Bill for finding this).

Wikipedia also notes that there was an acclaimed stage adaptation of the novel at London’s Hampstead Theatre in 2006 and 2007.

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