Wednesday, July 2, 2008

A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry

There are books that move me to write my own novel. Count this as one of them, but for all the wrong reasons.

First the good: Mistry’s six-hundred page epic about Indians living through Indira Gandhi’s disastrous Emergency regime is an endearing mix of pain, humor and familial love, and save for a few simplistically evil figures, the characters spring to life, rough edges intact.

As to the bad and ugly, you can start with any number of stereotypes that are agonizingly overplayed: the young male characters’ sexual obsession is one of many examples. Yet what damns this novel is that it is so relentlessly grim, so wedded to a hopeless perspective on the challenge of life, that at some point the reader wants to throw the book aside and ask why anyone would devote so much space to say little more than life- or at least India in the late seventies- is endlessly awful.

Any number of admirable reads posses a fairly bleak outlook on life. But when A Fine Balance spins a story for six hundred pages with nary a redeeming message in sight, the bitter taste at the end does not reflect empathy for the characters’ wretched fates as much as frustration for trusting in an ultimately soulless novel.

Mama Huhu or Horses and Tigers

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