by Rohinton Mistry
Started: 18th February 2015
Finished: 25th February 2015
This novel is another on my Postcolonial Fictions reading list. After being disappointed by Midnight’s Children and hearing this novel was somewhat similar, I was both nervous and excited about starting A Fine Balance. I quickly realised the brilliance of the novel and that I was going to love it.
A Fine Balance features the lives of four main characters, whose circumstances lead them all to meeting and relying on each other to survive. All to the backdrop to increasingly tense and distressing situations going on in India’s history. They each have tragic stories which are absolutely fascinating.
I don’t even know where to start with this, I just loved it and it completely took me by surprise. I really enjoyed the detail Mistry goes into with his characters, both main and minor. It goes without saying that not all of them are likeable, for me though I did really like the four protagonists: the widow Dina, the homesick college student Maneck, and the tailors Ishvar and (his nephew) Omprakash. I was truly captivated by their pasts and how they ended up in the same city in the present day. I don’t want to go into too much detail with their individual stories and drama because it hits you the hardest when you experience it for yourself. By having four central characters and recurring minor characters this made it easy to form connections and attachments, which made the novel a lot more meaningful to me and easier to keep track of. As you’re exposed to the character’s past this allows you to see the character develop and have a much better understanding of them in the present. You root for the characters and want things to work out for them.
The language of the novel is gripping and felt very genuine, which in turn makes the novel very convincing. The lives of these characters are fictional but they blend so well with the very real events of the Partition and the Emergency in India, that you can easily forget that it is fictional as you’re so invested. I feel that Mistry’s emotive language is effective and his writing in general goes from being subtle to somewhat explicit which I enjoyed. By not having the Partition and the Emergency explicitly mentioned often made the novel, and the events, feel more tense, mysterious and frightening. This also made it feel more like a story rather than a history lesson. There were times where suspicious/awful things were happening and it was gradually revealed to be part of a bigger picture – which had a bigger impact on me than just telling me how terrible the government is outright.
The novel is divided into chapters, but each chapter is split into parts. The first few chapters followed the same structure: they started focused on one or two of the main characters in the present, it then explained their past and brought the reader back to the present day. As you became more familiar with the characters through the novel, the characters the novel focused on in chapters/parts of chapters would shift more often in a way that keeps your attention rather than confuses you (especially as it all takes place in the same narrative) I like the way the book was structured and it also made it easier to read.
A Fine Balance is just an amazing novel and I would strongly recommend it. It’s so difficult to put down (I read practically the whole thing in one afternoon) and it was simply heartbreaking, with the occasional hopeful/uplifting moment creating the fine balance between hope and despair. Not only does it tell a great story but I also learned a lot about this time period in India too. I’m really pleased this was featured on a reading list so I could experience it.