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A Fine Balance
Cover of A Fine Balance
A Fine Balance
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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.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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    One: City By the Sea

    Dina Dalal seldom indulged in looking back at her life with regret or bitterness, or questioning why things had turned out the way they had, cheating her of the bright future everyone had predicted for her when she was in school, when her name was still Dina Shroff. And if she did sink into one of these rare moods, she quickly swam out of it. What was the point of repeating the story over and over and over, she asked herself—it always ended the same way; whichever corridor she took, she wound up in the same room.

    Dina's father had been a doctor, a GP with a modest practice who followed the Hippocratic oath somewhat more passionately than others of his profession. During the early years of Dr. Shroff's career, his devotion to his work was diagnosed, by peers, family members, and senior physicians, as typical of youthful zeal and vigour. "How refreshing, this enthusiasm of the young," they smiled, nodding sagely, confident that time would douse the fires of idealism with a healthy dose of cynicism and family responsibilities.

    But marriage, and the arrival of a son, followed eleven years later by a daughter, changed nothing for Dr. Shroff. Time only sharpened the imbalance between his fervour to ease suffering and his desire to earn a comfortable income.

    "How disappointing," said friends and relatives, shaking their heads. "Such high hopes we had for him. And he keeps slaving like a clerk, like a fanatic, refusing to enjoy life. Poor Mrs. Shroff. Never a vacation, never a party—no fun at all in her existence."

    At fifty-one, when Most GPS would have begun considering options like working half-time, hiring an inexpensive junior, or even selling the practice in favour of early retirement, Dr. Shroff had neither the bank balance nor the temperament to permit such indulgences. Instead, he volunteered to lead a campaign of medical graduates bound for districts in the interior. There, where typhoid and cholera, unchallenged by science or technology, were still reaping their routine harvest of villagers, Dr. Shroff would try to seize the deadly sickles or, at the very least, to blunt them.

    But Mrs. Shroff undertook a different sort of campaign: to dissuade her husband from going into what she felt were the jaws of certain death. She attempted to coach Dina with words to sway her father. After all, Dina, at twelve, was Daddy's darling. Mrs. Shroff knew that her son, Nusswan, could be of no help in this enterprise. Enlisting him would have ruined any chance of changing her husband's mind.

    The turning point in the father-and-son relationship had come seven years ago, on Nusswan's sixteenth birthday. Uncles and aunts had been invited to dinner, and someone said, "Well, Nusswan, you will soon be studying to become a doctor, just like your father."

    "I don't want to be a doctor," Nusswan answered. "I'll be going into business-import and export."

    Some of the uncles and aunts nodded approvingly. Others recoiled in mock horror, turning to Dr. Shroff. "Is this true? No father-son partnership?"

    "Of course it's true," he said. "My children are free to do whatever they please."

    But five-year-old Dina had seen the hurt on her father's face before he could hide it. She ran to him and clambered onto his lap. "Daddy, I want to be a doctor, just like you, when I grow up."

    Everyone laughed and applauded, and said, Smart little girl, knows how to get what she wants. Later, they whispered that the son was obviously not made of the same solid stuff as the father-no ambition, wouldn't amount to...
About the Author-
  • Rohinton Mistry is the author of a collection of short stories, Tale from Firozsha Baag (1987), and two internationally acclaimed novels. Such a Long Journey (1991) was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and won the Governor General's Award, the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book, and the SmithBooks/Books in Canada First Novel Award. A Fine Balance (1995) won the prestigious Giller Prize, the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction, and The Royal Society of Literature's Winifred Holtby Award. It was also shortlisted for the Booker Prize, the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, and the Irish Times International Fiction Prize. Mistry was the recipient of the 1995 Canada-Australia Literary Prize.
    JOHN LEE's highly innovative work in the fields of emotional intelligence, anger management, and emotional regression has made him an in-demand consultant, teacher, trainer, coach, and speaker. His contributions in the fields of recovery, relationships, men's issues, spirituality, parenting, and creativity have put him in the national spotlight for over 20 years. Lee has been featured on Oprah, 20/20, Barbara Walters' The View, CNN, PBS, and NPR. He has been interviewed by Newsweek, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and dozens of other national magazines and radio talk shows.For over 25 years, Lee has conducted private and group sessions on a variety of issues working with men, women, couples, and families. He lectures, gives workshops and trainings in cities all over the world, delivering sensitive, yet sophisticated material to audiences in a humorous and simple way everyone can understand. His lectures have been branded as "hilariously entertaining, deeply compassionate, yet filled with 'tell it like it is!'"Lee served as a professor at the University of Texas and at the University of Alabama before becoming a writer, bestselling author, life coach, and personal consultant. He currently resides on breathtaking Lookout Mountain in Mentone, Alabama with his three happy dogs.
Reviews-
  • AudioFile Magazine It is 1975 in an unnamed tumultuous Indian city by the sea. Four people--a determined widow with a precarious sewing business, a young student who boards with the widow, and two tailors who have fled the caste violence of their native village--are thrust together. As they struggle to survive, they reveal a depth of spirit that belies their mistreatment as low-caste citizens. Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Fiction, a Booker Prize finalist, and an Oprah Book Club selection, A Fine Balance has a Dickensian mix of compassion and narrative sweep. John Lee's resonant Scottish-tinged voice carries the listener safely through the violent parts of the story while warmly celebrating the happy parts. His Indian accents color the characters beautifully. And--difficult for a male reader--even his women sound believable. A masterful performance. A.C.S. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award (c) AudioFile 2002, Portland, Maine
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from April 1, 1996
    The setting of Mistry's quietly magnificent second novel (after the acclaimed Such a Long Journey) is India in 1975-76, when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, defying a court order calling for her resignation, declares a state of emergency and imprisons the parliamentary opposition as well as thousands of students, teachers, trade unionists and journalists. These events, along with the government's forced sterilization campaign, serve as backdrop for an intricate tale of four ordinary people struggling to survive. Naive college student Maneck Kohlah, whose parents' general store is failing, rents a room in the house of Dina Dalal, a 40-ish widowed seamstress. Dina acquires two additional boarders: hapless but enterprising itinerant tailor Ishvar Darji and his nephew Omprakash, whose father, a village untouchable, was murdered as punishment for crossing caste boundaries. With great empathy and wit, the Bombay-born, Toronto-based Mistry evokes the daily heroism of India's working poor, who must cope with corruption, social anarchy and bureaucratic absurdities. Though the sprawling, chatty narrative risks becoming as unwieldy as the lives it so vibrantly depicts, Mistry combines an openness to India's infinite sensory detail with a Dickensian rendering of the effects of poverty, caste, envy, superstition,corruption and bigotry. His vast, wonderfully precise canvas poses, but cannot answer, the riddle of how to transform a corrupt, ailing society into a healthy one.

  • AudioFile Magazine Set in 1970s India, this engrossing story captures the brutal social policies of Indira Gandhi's government, illustrating their often tragic effects on the lives of four central characters. The abridged narration of this novel, a Booker Prize finalist, is skillfully handled by Madhur Jaffrey. Jaffrey's straightforward style of reading--sympathetic but not sentimental--serves the material well: So much sorrow befalls the story's likable characters that an overly absorbed narrator could easily tip its "fine balance" from hope to inconsolable despair. Through subtle shifts in tone and accent, Jaffrey conveys a wealth of information about different characters' personalities and stations in life. An outstanding performance. J.C.G. (c) AudioFile 2002, Portland, Maine
  • Wall Street Journal "Astonishing. . . . A rich and varied spectacle, full of wisdom and laughter and the touches of the unexpectedly familiar through which literature illuminates life."
  • Pico Iyer, Time "Monumental. . . . Few have caught the real sorrow and inexplicable strength of India, the unaccountable crookedness and sweetness, as well as Mistry."
  • The New York Times "Those who continue to harp on the decline of the novel . . . ought to consider Rohinton Mistry. He needs no infusion of magic realism to vivify the real. The real world, through his eyes, is magical."
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Rohinton Mistry
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