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! ( )