A Fine Balance and Me

A Fine Balance and Me

Nikhil Ravilla, Staff Writer


A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry is an incredible book. I first read it amid the pandemic, when just about anything would have sufficed. However, after recently rereading it, I can firmly assert that A Fine Balance is nothing short of extraordinary.


Mistry’s novel spans decades, from the end of British colonization and Partition to the Emergency. It follows the lives and stories of four primary characters: Dina Dalal, a widow who strives to remain independent from the grasp of her controlling brother, Ishvar and Omprakash Darji, two tailors who seek opportunity in the city and Maneck Kohlah, a college student from an idyllic town in the Himalayas.


One of my favorite aspects of this novel is how simply expansive it is. Mistry deftly unearths the many complexities of India, ranging from inter-caste tension to oppressive gender roles and everything in between. A Fine Balance is a sophisticated tale of sorrow, heroism and resilience spanning decades and many characters. One of the best examples of this was Sergeant Kesar, a relatively minor character, who is a noble policeman who has concerns over the morals of the Emergency; he brings nuance to Mistry’s portrayal of history.


As much as I love this novel, just like any other, it’s not perfect. I loved the writing style, which I found reminiscent of nineteenth-century authors, like Dickens; however, I do see how some would find it tiresome. A Fine Balance doesn’t exactly move at a breakneck pace and is filled with exposition and moments that could certainly be seen as unnecessary. For example, many convenient reunions take place throughout the novel. The most egregious example would be both Dina and Maneck coincidentally running into Vasantrao Valmik at differing times throughout the novel (worse in Maneck’s case because he meets him again after having left India for nearly a decade!).


The most controversial aspect of A Fine Balance would be how, for lack of a better word, miserable it is. I don’t want to spoil it too much, because you should read it, but despite the comedy in this book, it is extremely bleak. I will admit that by the end of reading it, I was sobbing. The sheer tragedy of the circumstances the characters must endure was so immense as to be heartbreaking. And the ending! Once again, I don’t want to give away too much, but the culmination of all these struggles ends in all the characters failing to attain what they desire. This is frustrating because these are good, ordinary people who don’t deserve what happens to them; in most novels, they wouldn’t have to go through these tribulations. This, however, is among the most crucial parts of the novel. Mistry may have written a novel, but the story it tells is true. By not fully satisfying the reader’s expectations, he deepens the reader’s understanding of what should happen in fiction.


All that being said, A Fine Balance truly is one of the most life-changing books I have ever read. Mistry illustrates the interactions between his characters in beautiful and lush prose; his dialogue manages to be both realistic and poetic. The epic story makes you feel a deep connection to the characters and setting. This book, in many ways, reminds me of India itself; it is larger than life, swallowing you up whole. It is filled with tragedy, yet there is so much beauty to be found. There’s so much more that I have to say about this novel, but to sum it all up: I would recommend this book to anyone in a heartbeat.