“A Fine Balance” Rohinton Mistry

“You see, you cannot draw lines and compartments, and refuse to budge beyond them. Sometimes you have to use your failures as stepping-stones to success. You have to maintain a fine balance between hope and despair.”

I have to read so much young adult fiction for work, reviewing it, speaking about it, blogging about it, that I don’t get enough to read the massive stacks of general adult fiction that I have on my shelves. Or, I will start a book, and just as I’m getting into it, be given a deadline on something that requires more urgent attention. I worried that the same thing would happen when I picked up A Fine Balance earlier this week because of the giant stack of beckoning ‘work’ books.

And then I got bailed up with the flu. Which has been no fun at all, except that because I’m too sick to do anything useful, I’ve been able to get in some guilt-free reading time.

A Fine Balance is captivating. When I picked it up I was determined to at least read a good amount every day rather than letting it drag out in minute portions (which really ruins the book). Each day, I would return to the pages, reading more and more each time, until finally today I sat and read every last page.

Nothing I can say will do it justice. This is the kind of book where there is meaning, thought and precision in every single word. Mistry is an absolute master. A Fine Balance  isn’t a short book, but there isn’t one word too many or out of place. Every piece of the story threads through and loops around, to create a richly woven scenario where every character’s story adds to the overall tapestry.

No character is neglected. In some novels, the secondary characters are little more than names, with only the barest outline making them more than words. In A Fine Balance every character is given their own story. What is beautiful is that there are frequently moments where a character from another piece of the story appears again, which gives them more significance in a reader’s memory. Although this means that there are no ‘secondary’ characters, the four characters who exist at the forefront of the book, and tie together the complete circle of the story are Dina, Maneck, Omprakash and Ishvar. These four characters are the epitome of the title as they walk a sharp line between joy and despair.

In any other hands the events of this book would be too unbearable to read. Somehow though, Rohinton Mistry works joy and hope into events that should be soul-crushing. His eloquence makes the lengthy, often devastating pages fly by and ultimately speaks of the human abilities to endure and find joy even along the dustiest of paths. A Fine Balance is an exquisite piece of writing, that will no doubt spoil me for other books for some time.

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