A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

fine balanceThis prize-winning novel was an Oprah’s Book Club selection in 2001.  Reviewers have compared it to the works of Tolstoy and Dickens.

The very readable book depicts life in India from 1947 to the early 1980s, seen through the eyes of ordinary people.  The title, A Fine Balance, refers to the balance between hope and despair.

The author, who grew up in India, tells the story of the four major characters, who share a small flat.  Dina grew up as a doctor’s daughter, expecting a glowing future, but, as the novel opens, she is a middle-aged widow struggling for financial survival.  She accepts a boarder, Maneck, a young college student who has become disillusioned with the living conditions in a student hostel.  Since her eyes are failing and she can no longer sew for a living, she earns money by finding work for two tailors, Om and Ishvar, and giving them space to sew in her flat.  Despite differences in background, these four people form a bond.  Life is hard, but their affection for each other brings moments of joy, and their cooperation gives all of them hope for the future.

The sadness of the story may help you to understand the difficulties and desperation which some people face and almost certainly will make you grateful for the blessings in your own life.  The kindness and caring of many of the characters, transcending religious and cultural differences, is heartwarming.  My favorite example of this is the Muslim tailor who trained the two Hindu tailors and considered them as family.

(Helen Snow, retired from Information Services)

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