Summary and book reviews of Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry

Family Matters

by Rohinton Mistry

Family Matters
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2002, 448 pages
    Paperback:
    Nov 2003, 448 pages

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Book Summary

Mistry evokes laughter and tears as he spins the great wheel of human life and charts the soul's confusion and the body's decline, the endless cycle of repeated mistakes and failures of heart, and, yes, the radiant revelations of love.

Family Matters is Rohinton Mistry's eagerly anticipated third novel, following the success of his highly acclaimed A Fine Balance (1995), which won several major literary awards internationally.

This new novel takes us to Bombay in the mid-1990s. Nariman Vakeel is a seventy-nine-year-old Parsi widower and the patriarch of a small discordant family. Beset by Parkinson's disease and haunted by memories of the past, he lives in a once-elegant apartment with his two middle-aged stepchildren – Coomy, bitter and domineering, and her brother, Jal, mild-mannered and acquiescent. When Nariman's illness is compounded by a broken ankle, Coomy plots to turn his round-the-clock care over to Roxana, his sweet-tempered sister. She succeeds, but not without cost, and eventually Nariman takes up residence with Roxana, her husband, Yezad, and their two young sons. The effect of the new responsibility on Yezad, who is already besieged by financial worries, pushes him into a scheme of deception involving Vikram Kapur, his eccentric, often exasperating employer at Bombay Sporting Goods Emporium. This sets in motion a series of events – a great unravelling and a revelation of the family's love-torn past – that leads to the narrative's final outcome.

In this wise and compassionate novel, Mistry has once again created a beautifully realized world. As his unforgettable characters confront situations over which they have no control, their tragedies and their triumphs ultimately become our own.

Family Matters has all the richness, the gentle humor, and the narrative sweep that have earned Rohinton Mistry the highest of accolades around the world. It is a stunning achievement from one of the finest writers of our time.

Shortlisted for the 2002 Booker Prize

Chapter 1

A SPLASH OF LIGHT from the late-afternoon sun lingered at the foot of Nariman's bed as he ended his nap and looked towards the clock. It was almost six. He glanced down where the warm patch had lured his toes. Knurled and twisted, rendered birdlike by age, they luxuriated in the sun's comfort. His eyes fell shut again.

By and by, the scrap of sunshine drifted from his feet, and he felt a vague pang of abandonment. He looked at the clock again: gone past six now. With some difficulty he rose to prepare for his evening walk. In the bathroom, while he slapped cold water on his face and gargled, he heard his stepson and stepdaughter over the sound of the tap.

"Please don't go, Pappa, we beseech you," said Jal through the door, then grimaced and adjusted his hearing aid, for the words had echoed deafeningly in his own ear. The device was an early model; a metal case the size of a matchbox was clipped to his shirt pocket and wired to the earpiece. It had been...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The family's story springs from Nariman's marriage to the widowed mother of Coomy and Jal. We're told, "And he, when he looked back on it all, across the wasteland of their lives, despaired at how he could have been so feeble-minded, so spineless, to have allowed it to happen" (p. 10). He also blames his parents and their friends, "the wilful manufacturers of misery" (p.76). Why did Nariman give in, after his eleven-year love affair with Lucy, to his parents' demand that he marry a Parsi woman? He was forty-two years old at the time. Was his decision an act of weakness?

  2. When the medical assistant setting plaster on his broken ankle says to Nariman, "we need a Mahatma these days," Nariman retorts, "All we get instead ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Mistry is not just a fiction writer; he's a philosopher who finds meaning -- indeed, perhaps a divine plan -- in small human interactions. This beautifully paced, elegantly expressed novel is notable for the breadth of its vision as well as its immensely appealing characters and enticing plot.

Booklist - Donna Seaman

A discerning social observer and master dramatist, Mistry evokes laughter and tears as he spins the great wheel of human life and charts the soul's confusion and the body's decline, the endless cycle of repeated mistakes and failures of heart, and, yes, the radiant revelations of love.

Library Journal

Yes, family does matter, but Nariman's is falling apart even as he himself crumbles from Parkinson's. The award-winning Mistry revisits Bombay in his latest work

Reader Reviews

Joan

Family Matters
Family Matters is just that...the every day happenings and ups- and -downs in family life. The same issues affecting family relationships in Bombay, as anywhere else in the world. The characters are beautifully drawn, true-to-life, and with flaws ...   Read More

Ronin

Very Good Book. Readable, captivating.Touching storyline, memorable characters.

Joe

'Family Matters', like Mistry's other works of fiction, stands out from the crowd of the so-called 'postcolonial works' that have emerged from India after the 1980s. The most striking aspect of the book is that its theme revolves around a Parsi ...   Read More

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