January 24, 2023

A Fine Balance


Fiction
1995 Vintage Books
Finished on January 16, 2023
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)
Original Rating: 5/5 (Excellent)

Publisher's Blurb:

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.

Twenty-five years ago, I read A Fine Balance with an online book group. I remember falling in love with the story and characters, losing myself for hours in Mistry's evocative narrative. I gave the book a 5-star rating and went on to make it one of my favorite recommendations while working at Barnes & Noble. When we moved to Oregon, one of the members in my book group mentioned how much she enjoyed the book, and I encouraged her to nominate it for one of our selections last year. I wasn't able to attend the discussion, but I started reading the novel in September, only to set it aside for a few months. I picked it up again in December and couldn't put it down. Dina, Ishvar, Omprakash (Om, for short), and Maneck, who are so well-drawn and memorable, each worked their way into my heart, warts and all.

After all these years, I'd forgotten so much about the plot and was stunned by the turn of events as the conclusion drew near. I love a big book that pulls me in, invading my thoughts when I'm not reading, but unlike my recent read (Coming Home by Rosamunde Pilcher), this chunkster did not leave me feeling happy and hopeful. A Fine Balance is a heartbreaking story of four individuals who grow to care for one another, creating a non-traditional family within the confines of their small abode, struggling to survive during India's State of Emergency in the 70s. I didn't love this literary novel quite as much as the first time I read it, but it's an enlightening work, worthy of all the accolades and awards.

Highly recommend.

14 comments:

  1. I remember this book as being very good, but I don't exactly remember all the specifics of the storyline. Glad you did enjoy it again, even if it wasn't a 5 star this time. ;-)

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    1. Kay, it was very good, but it is also very bleak and depressing. The ending was much sadder than I remember!

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  2. Anonymous6:02 PM

    OOooooo. Might save for next year. I'm feeling like 2023 is going to be my year of love and light, romance and fun come-uppance. (that is, after I get through the TOB! lol)

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    1. Anonymous, sounds like a good game plan for 2023. Care to reveal your identity? I've been getting a few Anonymous comments lately and I'd love to know who I'm chatting with. :)

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  3. I love stories of found families but I'm not in the head space for a depressing book right now. I'll keep it in mind for the future. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Jen, I knew the book was grim, but I'd forgotten that the ending was so shocking and sad. Save it for another time.

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  4. I've always wanted to reread this book. I'm glad you warned us about its depressing qualities, though, as I'm trying to focus on reading books right now that include a strong element of hopefulness.

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    1. Deb, you're probably safe to just skip reading it a second time. Keep the memory of the first read and find something more uplifting for now. Coming Home (Pilcher) would be perfect. :)

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  5. This is one of the many big books on my shelves I have yet to read. It sounds beautiful even if sad. Especially for the first time reader. Like some of your other commenters, I'm not sure I'm in a place for this one yet, but hopefully one day.

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    1. Wendy, in spite of its sad nature, it's a beautiful story and definitely worth reading. I hope you can read it sometime down the road.

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  6. I remember reading this (on the beach in Captiva) sometime in the 90s and loving it, despite the fact that it was NOT a beach read. Still remember how depressing it was though... not sure I could read it again...

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    1. JoAnn, isn't it funny how we can remember where we were when we read certain books? I agree that it is definitely not a beach read, but it is very good. I'm glad I read it again, but had I remembered how sad it was, I probably wouldn't have. Next up in line for rereading is Cutting for Stone. I listened to the audio years ago, but my book group is reading it this year, so I'm going to read the print edition this time around. Definitely my year for BIG books!

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  7. I haven't read this, but 5 stars is a terrific recommendation! So glad you loved it the second time around.

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    1. Helen, I'm glad I made the time to read it a second time. It's an excellent novel.

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