22.Apr.2010 A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
You know that you’ve finished a great book when after turning the last page, you’re still thinking about the characters for days, wondering how they are, if they’re okay, as if they live in the parallel universe, breathing and going through their daily life at this moment. You would ponder about the memories that have passed, their sadness and happiness. That’s what happened to me with A Fine Balance.
A Fine Balance is vast yet personal. It is about India the country and about its people. After spending weeks with the book, I feel like I almost know India, know the people, the roads, the food, understand their jokes and misery. The book has a lot of characters, with the four main ones: a widow, a student, two tailors (uncle and nephew), and a cast of incredible side characters: beggars, beggar-master, hair-collector, rent-collector, monkey-man. There are so many characters, all unique and memorable, with their own little story, how everything comes to be, how they survive life.
I was quite surprised to find how India is in a lot of ways similar to Indonesia. The chaotic nature of the nation, the corrupt Government, extreme poverty, survival techniques, unbalance of power, massive gap between the rich and the poor, we even share a few similar words.
There are also obvious differences, for example the caste system and the beggaring culture. India is often identified with its odd organized ways to produce beggars, by mutilating body parts. I’m really curious about the origin of that, because we don’t have anything like that in Indonesia, even though poverty is as rampant. The fights between different religions are easy to understand, as we have similar calamity in Indonesia. It seems that human always find reasons to blame and attack those who are different than ourselves, be it religion, race, or tribe.
“You have to maintain a fine balance between hope and despair.” ~ p231
There are a couple of references about ‘a fine balance between hope and despair’, and I honestly didn’t get it until I finished the book. How true that you need a fine balance of hope and despair to live. When despair is too much, everything will topple over, be it a nation or an individual person.
One of the things I loved most was nothing is dramatized. Even the most horrifying parts are written in only a couple of sentences or paragraphs. It’s like Mistry is trying to emphasize that they’re facts. That it happens. It’s nothing like soap-opera. It’s not a made-up drama. And because of that I didn’t experience explosions of emotion, just deep long lingering sorrow at all the misfortunes and anger at all the unfairness.
A Fine Balance impressed me immensely. I closed the book with a big sigh of sadness and happiness. Sadness for it had to end and I had to part with the characters, and it might be a long while before I find any book like this ever again. Happiness for it has touched me very deeply and I feel very lucky to get a chance to be taken on such an amazing journey.
Deep down I wish that someday there will come an author who is able to write about Indonesia as great as Rohinton Mistry did for India. Many voices need to be heard, many tales deserve to be told. If I were to meet Mistry one day, I would say, thank you, thank you, for writing this wonderful book.
1996, 614 pp
A Fine Balance is Jackie’s Best Book Ever. Have you read it? Have you read other books by Rohinton Mistry? Would you recommend them?
More Favorite Quotes
“Independence came at a high price: a debt with a payment schedule of hurt and regret.” ~ Dina, p473
The morning express bloated with passengers slowed to a crawl, then lurched forward suddenly, as though to resume full speed.
1996 Commonwealth Writers Prize for Overall Best Book
1995 Giller Prize
Shortlisted for 1996 Booker Prize