Written by Kiran Gokal
A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry is a riveting and transparent novel that follows four characters in 1975 as they navigate the beaten paths of an India governed by the notorious prime minister of the time, Indira Gandhi. The harrowing effects of the Emergency Act conducted by Gandhi and the political anxiety of the time serves as a backdrop against the compelling lives of four strangers, who are all refugees in their own ways, and are thrust in an uncertain journey together. We follow an uncle and a nephew fleeing persecution, a woman searching freedom from an environment that holds her back, and a young college student too naïve to face the reality of society on his own.
Rohinton Mistry’s writing has often been named Tolstoyan because like Tolstoy, Mistry’s writing navigates incredible stories with larger-than-life characters. However, Mistry manages to execute his story with a gripping realism that echoes Dickens. The novel is captivating and beautiful while simultaneously showing the reader a faithful portrayal of the country and its people. The novel touches on many issues that India faced at the time—some still present today, including poverty, caste violence, and corruption. The title evokes the thin line between hope and despair that alters constantly throughout all our lives, but becomes a leash for others.
Reading this novel is definitely an experience. It was emotionally difficult at times and though the book is written and published in English, if I didn’t have the fluency in Hindi as a I do, there would have been language and words that I would not have understood. But despite all of this, the novel is beautiful. The characters climb into your heart and make a home there—you find yourself weeping and laughing with and for them. It’s informative, it’s important, and it’s compelling. Mistry shows the reader a part of world history that was tolerated and now overshadowed, emphasizing both the strength and endurance of humanity.