A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

fine-balanceAbout the Book

With a compassionate realism and narrative sweep that recall the work of Charles Dickens, this magnificent novel captures all the cruelty and corruption, dignity and heroism, of India.

The time is 1975. The place is an unnamed city by the sea. The government has just declared a State of Emergency, in whose upheavals four strangers–a spirited widow, a young student uprooted from his idyllic hill station, and two tailors who have fled the caste violence of their native village–will be thrust together, forced to share one cramped apartment and an uncertain future.

As the characters move from distrust to friendship and from friendship to love, A Fine Balance creates an enduring panorama of the human spirit in an inhuman state.


It has taken me a while to review this book. However, this was quite a memorable read, the kind of book that haunts you long after you turn the final page. Sometimes I think about the characters and it takes a minute for me to remember that they are not people I know in real life but fictional characters. Has that ever happened to you? You sit and remember this guy who used to be obsessed with hair and so you take a second trying to remember how you know him only to finally recall that he is a book character and not someone that you’ve ever met in real life. Anyway, I hope you get what you mean.

This is a story about four friends; Dina, Ishvar, Om and Maneck who are forced together due to circumstances. They come from different backgrounds but they end up forming an odd yet enduring friendship that helps them weather the storms. The story is set in India in the 1970s. There is a background story of the political climate at that time. I don’t know much about India’s history but some of the other readers have commented that the politics are based on real events and the female prime minister is inspired by a politician who ruled that country during that time.

This book tackles so many difficult themes. One that stood out for me is the caste system that assigns social status to citizens. The lives of the lower castes are so depressingly portrayed in this book. The suffering is unimaginable. The caste is not allowed to do some jobs or even vote. It seems like they don’t have basic rights even the right to life. There are stories of life in slums. This reminded me of Slumdog Millionaire. The human suffering depicted through the pages is unimaginable. At some point, it was getting frustrating because it seemed unending. I kept looking for the light but the darkness prevailed through each chapter. I guess that’s life though.

A Fine Balance by Rohinston Mistry is the kind of book that I recommend to everyone. It is very well written; the prose is poignant, flawless, compelling. It is just beautiful. The characterization is great. The characters are so well developed that it is hard to forget them. However, it is only fair that I warn you that this book is heart wrenching. It will mess with your emotions and it may make you cry. It angered me. Life can be unfair and humans can be heartless. However, the question of a fine balance was thought provoking. How do you stay sane in a crazy, cold world when life is continuously throwing punches at you? I think this is a perfect book-club read due to all the discussion points. If you are not in a book-club, you can still read it and perhaps try to work-out the answers and let me know so that we can discuss it.

6 thoughts on “A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

  1. “the kind of book that haunts you long after you turn the final page.” I loved this sentence, this is exactly what I look for in a book. Sometimes months go by and I still remember exactly how it made me feel so that’s how I know it was good.

    I hate that thing about the caste system, every time I read a book or watch a movie about that theme, it gets me on my nerves 😦 This looks like a touching and memorable book, I didn’t know about it, I like that you don’t only read the popular ones (like me 😦 XD)

    1. This was the first book that I read that examined the caste system in detail. This world is so crazy. I don’t even get how the system works yet but I just know that its about people being born into different social classes. Its even weirder that there are people who still practice it 😦

      As for reading the not so popular book, its always great to discover new gems. So many wonderful books out there that are not so well-known despite being so awesome 🙂

  2. Wow. What a powerful book! I am so glad you reviewed this, even though it took a while, otherwise I might not have heard of it! I will definitely suggest it to one of my book clubs for the future. I struggle to get through heartwrenching books. Yet, this one seems worth it. Great review.

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