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A Fine Balance

A Fine Balance
Rohinton Mistry
603 pages

This beautiful novel, set in India in 1975, expores the notion of "fine balance" in several different dimensions: the fine balance of keeping people in their caste; the fine balance of prosperity vs. poverty; the fine balance between love and loss. There are four principal characters: Dina Dalal, a widow with unconventional views; Maneck, a college student; and Ishvar and Om, two tailors from a remote village. To achieve financial independence from her brother, Dina takes in Maneck as a boarder, and hires the tailors to run a clothing business. The tailors were the most fascinating characters in this novel. Their chosen profession did not come without some cost to their family: What the ages had put together, Dukhi had dared to break asunder; he had turned cobblers into tailors, distorting society's timeless balance. Crossing the line of caste had to be punished with the utmost severity...(p. 147) To make their way in the world, Ishvar and Om lived in severe poverty, and repeatedly overcame obstacles necessary for basic survival.

The caste differences were, at first, a barrier between Dina, Maneck, and the tailors. But as the four spent more and more time together in Dina's small flat, they came to appreciate one another. They provided both tangible and emotional support. Dina, in particular, found a way out of the loneliness that had plagued her since becoming a widow. The deep relationships between the characters were uplifting, and formed their own "fine balance" against the many sad and depressing scenes in this book.

I loved the structure of this novel. It begins with a prologue, that shows how the characters come to know one another. Then Mistry takes the reader deep into the lives of each character, beginning with Dina, exploring her childhood and marriage. Mistry vividly describes Maneck's parents and the rural setting of his childhood. A full understanding of the tailors comes by going back a full generation to reveal their parents' life and values. Mistry relates each character's story up to the point where their lives intersect, sometimes presenting the same events from different points of view.

A Fine Balance is a must-read! ( )


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 21st, 2009 10:51 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you enjoyed it Laura!
I was so struck with how attitude affects so much. Those poor tailors, by the end, how they lost everything and still had such a great outlook on life. And how the student, who had the most possessions and opportunities, was the most unhappy and guilty. The ending was the most poignant to me.
Jan. 21st, 2009 11:09 pm (UTC)
That's an interesting comment, and I agree. And Dina's attitude was also important -- she would start with a negative view of, say, the tailors and then come to see the light and view them more positively.

The ending hit me like a ton of bricks.
Jan. 22nd, 2009 01:00 pm (UTC)
A Fine Balance
I'm pleased you liked it too!
You're a harsh marker though - I think this is the best book I have ever read, as the power of the emotions stays with you.
Perhaps, you'll go back and award it 5 stars in a few months time, when you realise how long lasting it is!!
Jan. 22nd, 2009 01:27 pm (UTC)
Re: A Fine Balance
Well, it does take a lot for me to give a book 5 stars! 4.5 puts it in pretty good company on my bookshelf, too!
Jan. 22nd, 2009 01:01 pm (UTC)
Above comment
Sorry the comment above is from me!
Feb. 10th, 2009 01:11 pm (UTC)
I have this book on my shelf downstairs. I look at it every once in awhile and think 'really must read that' Thanks for the review, I'll have to really consider it after the stack of books I'm reading now!
Nov. 2nd, 2009 06:58 am (UTC)
A great article indeed and a very realistic, and superb, I would like to thank the author of this article for contributing such a lovely and mind-opening article.
Nov. 7th, 2009 11:08 am (UTC)
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( 8 comments — Leave a comment )