rohinton mistry

I never used to be very good at reading just a chapter or two from a book at a time. Once I had started, I *had* to finish. But somewhere along the line of having eight kids, I learnt to savour a page at a time – even a paragraph in some instances. Which is not to say I don’t LIKE to read the whole shebang all at once, but I just haven’t had that luxury in recent years.

Thank goodness this last weekend hubby was off work and we had four days in holiday mode. I started a book, which demanded I read read read it to completion. It was a book that I could not bear to put down, yet could not bear to read either. Even when not being read, it consumed my every waking thought. And my dreams.

Powerful. Haunting. Gripping. Harrowing. Agonising. Despairing. Compelling. Tragic.

Warning had been given that it was a depressing book, *harrowing* someone had said. With over 700 pages I figured there was plenty of space for despair, but room for light interludes too. How wrong could I have been! From the first page to the very last line, there was tragedy after tragedy.
As each tragedy unfolds I think there cannot possibly be any more, that something must be about to go right, but I am wrong. Every few pages there is something even worse than what has preceeded it. And worse still. And even more worse if that can be possible. Not only is it possible, it is believable; while the events might be deeply disturbing, they are certainly profoundly sickeningly believable. I was struck with a deep sadness.

“You can’t respond to every input in life,” a previous reader-of-the-book had commented to me. And there’s some truth in that. But I can’t NOT respond to this book either.
Another friend wrote:
“I found that I appreciated the needs of the majority world and the daily “fine balance” most live in in a more real and urgent way after reading this book…..I also think that we need to remember that God is bigger than us, than human sin and human striving to make the world a better place…and that acknowledging that is not necessarily a cop out…but a reason to rely on him more, to seek him more and to obey him more in what we *are* able to do in this point in time…”

It’s a response that resonates deeply with me.

On a completely different note, I loved the book for its insights into an eastern – or a non-western worldview(or are those descriptors too general?)  I don’t often read out of the western tradition, and this was an eye-opening change. You know how you see your own ways more clearly when faced with something completely different? That’s what this book was like. If it had been my own copy, I’d have highlighted all the non-western-isms. There were plenty.
It was also extremely well written. The characters were well developed; the way their various stories within the story were intertwined was on the whole quite plausible. The plot, while simple, was kept interesting by the use of foreshadowing and flashbacking. Actually, the way Mistry introduced you gently to some horror by having it in the background to the main story, and then brought you starkly face-to-face with it in a shockingly personal way with the main characters, was particularly clever. For example, the slums were mentioned in passing early on……later in the story the real tragedy of them unfolded. 
The setting: India in the mid-1970s.
The book? A Fine Balance (1995) by Rohinton Mistry
This is starting to sound like a school book report – not that any schoolkids will write about this one. Or will they? If this is reality for so many in the world, is there any reason to keep the knowledge from our own privileged children? It’s not a book I’d give to a twelve-year-old, but should I keep it from a 16-year-old? My gut-reaction is that it should be labelled: DO NOT READ UNTIL YOU”RE MATURE ENOUGH TO BE MARRIED. But perhaps that’s unrealistic;-)

It may not have been an enjoyable read, but I will definitely be on the look-out for more of his works:
The Scream (2008)
Family Matters (2002)
Such a Long Journey (1991) which is also a movie
Tales from Forzsha Baag (1987)

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This entry was posted in adult, history, literature, political, review, worldview. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to rohinton mistry

  1. Karen says:

    Yes, yes and yes. And I guess it depends on the 16 year old. Great quote by the way 😉

    • Nicole says:

      Hey Rach,
      I read ‘A fine balance’ about ten years ago and it still remains one of the most disturbing and thought provoking books I’ve ever encountered. Cultural dispair – this is life without Christ.
      I gave this book to K8 (age 18) to read this year – how could I not?
      In the last year I also got her to read Khalid Hosseini “A thousand golden suns” and ” the Reader ” – Bernard Schlink. All disturbing adult books that look at the truth of suffering, injustice and the consequences of human ideas.
      Thought you’d appreciate that I got her to watch the movie ‘Taken’ – Liam Neilson before she went to Europe for a year (Whilst this was not the greatest film ever made, it instilled a healthy level of fear into our little princess).
      Life is full of ugliness – injustice is deeply complex – hope in Christ is urgent!

      • Rach says:

        Hi Nicole!
        I know it’s not about numbers, but, yes, 18 does seem a better age for this book. Our Jgirl16 is mature, but I don’t think she’s quite ready for it. However, to NOT give it at all is not an option. Our kids need to know this stuff – how will they even desire to make a difference if they think the rest of the world is just like them?
        I’ve not seen Taken….will go get it (and Jgirl can watch it with us!)
        Will be seeking out the two other books you mention too.
        A Mother’s Ordeal – set in communist China, main topic: aborting babies, leaving them to die when they survive etc is another in that hideous but necessary category.

  2. Nicole says:

    A word or caution:
    I know I’m preaching to the converted but all the same.
    Make sure you’ve read The Reader and a Thousand Golden Suns before you give it to your young adult to read. You will need to make sure they have a healthy understanding of Christian sexuality before they tackle these. You will need to talk through the bigger context – socio-political and historical with them. Lots and lots of talking. These books are not for the faint hearted – the jury is out as to whether I’ll ever let 3rd daughter (15) read these. As I write this I am reminded that when my younger sister was made to visit an abatoir fifteen years ago as part of a work assignment, her reaction was vegetarianism. She still doesn’t eat meat.
    On another note – (cause I know your into this Rach), K8 did an individual comparative study of The Reader with Shakespeare’s a Merchant of Venice – worked well.
    :N

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