It’s some time since I read a book that hit me as hard as Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance. Bought on a whim at a second-hand book fair, I knew nothing about book or author. But the cover said it was shortlisted for the Booker in 1996 and I want to read more books that are, at least a bit, more up to date that some of my usual ones.
It’s such an expansive book, covering generations of multiple families, shifting location from city to mountains to village and back to city, that I was surprised to realise that, on one level at least, you can boil it down to a year in the life of a widow, her student ‘paying guest’ and the two tailors she employees to work in her flat.
The book could also be summed up by something one of the many peripheral characters says:
“Sometimes you have to use your failures as stepping-stones to success. You have to maintain a fine balance between hope and despair.”
Later on the same character, a second career change forced upon him by circumstances, remarks:
“There is always hope – hope enough to balance our despair. Or we would be lost.”
As I progressed through the book it became obvious Mistry drew a very, very fine balance between the two states, favouring despair slightly more often than hope. But ultimately there was some form of hope for most of the characters.
So, a page-turner – and one I considered reading through the night to finish, so lost in the book was I – it was also fascinating, bringing mid-70s India to life, shining an unflinching light on caste tensions, poverty, student life and the fine balance that so many people still have to maintain.