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Friday, November 24, 2017

A Fine Balance (1995) by Rohinton Mistry

Book Review
A Fine Balance (1995)
by Rohinton Mistry


   I'm sure that when Salman Rushdie burst onto the international literary scene with his second novel, Midnight's Children, there were readers who were disappointed with the type of book that brought South Asia to the prominent attention of the Western literary world.   Midnight's Children, was, by all accounts, event to detractors, an amazing book, but it was also very Western, what with the post modernism and magical realism, a book about South Asia written by an Author who understood Western literary culture very well.   For these people, A Fine Balance, by Canadian-Indian author Rohinto Mistry, is probably closer to what they had in mind a sprawling (can there be any other book about South Asia) saga that evoked Dickens and Emile Zola.

  A Fine Balance also squarely address the caste system, and the place of untouchables in Indian society, something that, to my knowledge Rushdie has never addressed directly in any of his fiction.  A Fine Balance made a huge splash- only the second Canadian book to be a selection for Oprah's Book Club, and it got a Booker Prize nomination.   I think simply the fact that it is the first book in the 1001 Books project to feature characters from the untouchable/dalit social class in India justifies it's canonical status.   At close to 600 pages, the reader needs to treat A Fine Balance as one would a Dickens novel- you aren't just going to sit down and read it in a couple of sittings.

  Personally though, I don't believe you can understand India without understanding untouchables, and their history and experience, and this is the only book I've found in my life that does it in the context of literary fiction, so there you go.

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