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Recommended Reads: A Fine Balance

Written by The Reader, 25th January 2012

This week’s Recommended Read comes from Charlotte Weber, Liverpool Hope University's Reader-In-Residence, who found herself completely immersed in the world of 1970s India as depicted by Rohinton Mistry in A Fine Balance.

When my friend passed this 624-page novel to me, starting it honestly felt like a bit of an epic endeavour: I am, admittedly, a very slow reader. It also didn’t help that it was set in, and describes, a period of political history in a country that I at that point had never visited and knew nothing about: 1970s India. However, I was also incredibly curious because the aforesaid friend had been reading the book for the past three weeks of our travels together, and I had been forced to sit next to her on trains, planes, buses and boats as she gasped with horror, laughed out loud and, eventually, finished the book with her hand clasped against her mouth with tears running down her face. Sworn to secrecy so as not to spoil it for me, she hadn’t breathed a word about the plot: but had thoroughly convinced me that this was a book I needed to read. Also, when she finally passed it to me, we were 2 hours into a 42-hour bus ride in Africa. So time was something I wasn’t short of…

I can honestly say that reading this novel was one of the most intense experiences I have had with a book. You are literally tossed between extremes of emotion, thrown back and forward through time, and transported into new worlds: both bewitching and unspeakably cruel. The story centres around four unlikely characters who are thrown together as a result of the tumultuous political and social circumstances in the present-day of the novel. However, as Mistry skilfully reveals the very different, and often very sad, back-stories that have led each of the characters to where they are now, the relationships formed between the four become all the more moving…

And yes, at the end, I cried. (It took me somewhat longer than the 42 hours of the bus journey…not least because the bus had no lights, and my head torch had packed-up). But the tears weren’t just because of the events that take place at the book’s conclusion. They were because suddenly, at that final moment, the whole of the book was brought crashing back into my head all at once: I remembered all of the terrible things that meant, it couldn’t have ended any other way; I remembered the parts that made me smile and laugh and forget about all the enormous, ugly, impossible things the characters are pitted against. It was overwhelming, to say the least…. my friend had to hold my hand.

If you have ever wanted to know anything about India, or contemporary history, or raw human survival and connection: READ THIS. I dare you.

A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry, Faber and Faber (2010)


2 thoughts on “Recommended Reads: A Fine Balance

Penny says:

Thank you for this – it’s a beautiful description of the power of reading A Fine Balance. We read it in my reading group at the Idea Store Bow, and it was wonderful and tough. It took us a year, and the more harrowing moments were only bearable because we were all going through it together. Fortunately we had memories of laughing at other bits to sustain us, and a real love of each character.

The library staff member who was with us recently said to me ‘I still think about the ending and how awful it was’.

Charlotte says:

Reblogged this on Hope Readers and commented:
Today is a very special day in India and Nepal – this year, the Hindu religious festival of Holi falls on this day, 8th March. Also known as the ‘festival of Colours’, Holi is celebrated by people throwing scented or coloured powder and perfume at each other. The festival has many purposes, one of the main of which being to welcome-in the new season of Spring and pray for a fertile harvest in the months to come. It is also said to be one of the most exciting and exhilerating festivals in the world – with all social structures and conventions being loosened on this day.

To mark the occasion, here is a recommended good read for you, if you want to immerse yourself in the Indian culture. Enjoy!

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