Rohinton Mistry, in his novel, A Fine Balance, takes the reader to India in the era of the 1970s. He brings to the surface the realities of a fine balance between hope and despair through four main characters. Mistry deftly builds up the characters through their families. The reader learns the backgrounds and nuances of these families. Two of these characters are from a middle class background while the two tailors emerge from the “untouchable class.” Through intrigue, suspense and some coincidence these two different classes of people find themselves intertwined in each other’s lives. There is exposure to the realism of living in the slum areas in contrast to the middle class type of living.
Through the author's brilliant style of writing, the reader is able to learn about the hope and despair that is evident in the everyday lives of these characters. They are confronted with coping with the political climate of the era that includes a state of emergency and laws on sterilization. There is joy, merriment, sadness, grief and loss of life as the reader is wound into choices or lack of appropriate decisions that are made by each of these characters. At times, it is heart-breaking to read about the hopelessness that deteriorates into despair due to forces beyond control. Yet in other instances there is the joy and merriment of family life that cheerfully comes across to the reader. It is the juxtaposition of being in a sense of hope and then delving into the sense of despair that is realistically portrayed in this novel.
A Fine Balance enables the reader to witness the sheer instincts of survival in one aspect and the comfort of thriving in another aspect. It all depends on the family one is born into. An excellent read.