A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
F R I D A Y F A V O U R I T E
This is such a difficult book for me to write about. If I told you that I loved it so much that I can’t actually bring myself to go back and read through it again, does that even make sense?!
I’ve always been captivated by India. As a sixth former studying for my History A Level, all I wanted was to read more and more about it — but there was nothing remotely connected to India on my school syllabus.
I went to @waterstonesgowerstreet with my dad one weekend and it was there that I bought Katherine Frank’s biography of Indira Gandhi. She formed the basis of my university interview at @st_annes_college and triggered what became an almost fierce compulsion in me to read any novel based in India that I could get my hands on. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry has to be one of the greatest of them all (and trust me, I’ve read a fair few).
Indeed, though she is unnamed, Indira Gandhi — referred to only as ‘Prime Minister’ — forms a central part of his book, which I hesitate to call a ‘novel’ because A Fine Balance is so real on so many levels. Set in India in the 1970s during the state of Emergency, this was a time when civil liberties were curbed to a shocking and terrifying degree; detention, torture and forced sterilisation were part of a climate of frightening political unrest. Against this backdrop are the lives and stories of the novel’s protagonists; Dina, Ishvar, Om and Maneck. You will see, feel, breathe and believe in them because that is the transcendent power of Mistry’s writing.
This book is utter magnificence. It is heart-wrenching and it will transport you through its pages — and it may well move you to the extent it did me, so that you may never feel able to pick it up again; but you will always, always want it somewhere close to you, wherever you are.