Summary and book reviews of A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

A Fine Balance

by Rohinton Mistry

A Fine Balance
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  • First Published:
    Nov 2001, 624 pages
    Paperback:
    Nov 2001, 603 pages

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Book Summary

"Astonishing. . . . A rich and varied spectacle, full of wisdom and laughter and the touches of the unexpectedly familiar through which literature illuminates life." - The Wall Street Journal.

With a compassionate realism and narrative sweep that recall the work of Charles Dickens, this magnificent novel captures all the cruelty and corruption, dignity and heroism, of India. The time is 1975. The place is an unnamed city by the sea. The government has just declared a State of Emergency, in whose upheavals four strangers--a spirited widow, a young student uprooted from his idyllic hill station, and two tailors who have fled the caste violence of their native village--will be thrust together, forced to share one cramped apartment and an uncertain future.

As the characters move from distrust to friendship and from friendship to love, A Fine Balance creates an enduring panorama of the human spirit in an inhuman state.

Chapter One
City By the Sea

Dina Dalal seldom indulged in looking back at her life with regret or bitterness, or questioning why things had turned out the way they had, cheating her of the bright future everyone had predicted for her when she was in school, when her name was still Dina Shroff. And if she did sink into one of these rare moods, she quickly swam out of it. What was the point of repeating the story over and over and over, she asked herself--it always ended the same way; whichever corridor she took, she wound up in the same room.

Dina's father had been a doctor, a GP with a modest practice who followed the Hippocratic oath somewhat more passionately than others of his profession. During the early years of Dr. Shroff's career, his devotion to his work was diagnosed, by peers, family members, and senior physicians, as typical of youthful zeal and vigour. "How refreshing, this enthusiasm of the young," they smiled, nodding sagely, confident that time would ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry's stunning internationally acclaimed bestseller, is set in mid-1970s India. It tells the story of four unlikely people whose lives come together during a time of political turmoil soon after the government declares a "State of Internal Emergency." Through days of bleakness and hope, their circumstances – and their fates – become inextricably linked in ways no one could have foreseen. Mistry's prose is alive with enduring images and a cast of unforgettable characters. Written with compassion, humor, and insight, A Fine Balance is a vivid, richly textured, and powerful novel written by one of the most gifted writers of our time.
The questions, discussion topics, and suggested reading list ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

The Boston Review

...A penchant for heavy-handed sentimentality, though, eventually overwhelms the attempt at tragedy, while social insight gives way a predictable survey of the evils threatening India. A Fine Balance is finally neither poignant nor pointed enough to fulfill Mistry's ambitions or the reader's expectations.

Time - Pico Iyer

Monumental. . . . Few have caught the real sorrow and inexplicable strength of India, the unaccountable crookedness and sweetness, as well as Mistry.

The New York Times Book Review, A.G. Mojtabai

... Mistry needs no infusions of magical realism to vivify the real. The real world, through his eyes, is quite magical enough.

The New York Times

Those who continue to harp on the decline of the novel . . . ought to consider Rohinton Mistry. He needs no infusion of magic realism to vivify the real. The real world, through his eyes, is magical.

New York Review of Books

A serious and important work . . . the product of high intelligence and passionate conviction.

Wall Street Journal

Astonishing. . . . A rich and varied spectacle, full of wisdom and laughter and the touches of the unexpectedly familiar through which literature illuminates life.

Publishers Weekly

Mistry combines an openness to India's infinite sensory detail with a Dickensian rendering of the effects of poverty, caste, envy, superstition, corruption and bigotry. His vast, wonderfully precise canvas poses, but cannot answer, the riddle of how to transform a corrupt, ailing society into a healthy one.

Library Journal - Janet Ingraham

Even more affecting than Mistry's depictions of squalor and grotesque injustice is his study of friendships emerging unexpectedly, naturally. The novel's coda is cruel and heart-wrenching but deeply honest. This unforgettable book...is highly recommended.

Kirkus Reviews

A sweeping story, in a thoroughly Indian setting, that combines Dickens's vivid sympathy for the poor with Solzhenitsyn's controlled outrage, celebrating both the resilience of the human spirit and the searing heartbreak of failed dreams.

Reader Reviews

Barbara, The Club's Book Groups

Yes, it is a great read!
The tragedy, the sorrow, the loss, is almost too much for me to recommend this; on the other hand Mistry made me believe I knew these characters. I believe I would know them on the street if I were to go to India today. It is true, as others have ...   Read More

Paula Ashby

A Fine Balance
An outstanding story set in India that truly tells it like it is. It is like Shantaram without the Westerners. No gloss added - just pure reality as anyone who has been to India will know. Book of the year for me.

Barbara

Our book group chose this for our February discussion. I could not put it down! In fact, I also borrowed the unabridged audio version so I could do my household chores and listen at the same time! Rohinton Mistry is truly gifted in his descriptions...   Read More

SMN

After reading this book, I feel in love with Rohinton Mistry's books. I have read every book that he has published and loved them all. this book was... Well there are no words to say how great this book was.

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