A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

I’m not really sure how to write this review…this is an absolutely wonderful book, and I really want to try and do it justice.

Set in Mumbai in the 1970s when India has been declared in a State of Emergency by the Prime Minister Indira Ghandi, it tells the story of four people who are brought together, and the effect that the relationships between them have on their lives.  Dina Dalal is a widow, fiercely independent and determined to support herself, rather than rely on her brother’s financial help, or get remarried.

Ishvar and Omprakash (Om) are tailors from a low caste, who seek work in Mumbai and find themselves working for Dina.

Maneck is a young man, brought up in a loving family in the mountains, who comes to the city to attend college and needs a room to rent.

All of them are from very different backgrounds, but are thrown together as they try to make lives for themselves during what is a very difficult period in India.

The first half of the book centres on the histories of the characters and tells how they came to find themselves in their respective situations.  The second half concentrates more on the bond between the four of them, and the trials that they face as individuals and as a group.

There is also much in the book about life in India at the time, and how difficult it was for so many citizens.

I adored this book.  Each character was so beautifully drawn that I felt that I really knew them, and I certainly came to care very much about them.  The descriptions of some of the horrors that took place were gut wrenching and very distressing to read about – all the more so, because I was aware that such things really did happen.  It certainly made me realise how lucky I am to have the freedoms and privileges that most of the time we all take for granted.  This is a tale of a population which has been failed by it’s government – and when the rulers of a land can’t abide by their own rules, how can anyone else be expected to?  I could only read with trepidation as some of the characters seemed to be drawn along a road that could only lead to heartache.

There are a number of other characters who are relatively minor, but all of whom were fleshed out and were entirely believable.

The writing was beautiful – so eloquent, but also very accessible.  The location and time were really brought to life.

At no point did I get bored – I just wanted to read on and learn more about the lives of these fascinating people, and the ending when it came, took my breath away.

This is a wonderfully written, warm and absorbing read – very highly recommended indeed.  (Don’t be put off by the length – you may well wish it was even longer!)

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