Goodreads rating: 4.31 (52,000+ ratings)
My rating: 9/10
Why it’s on the list: I received this book from my boss for my birthday this year, and she said it was one of her all time favourites.
First published: 1995 by McLelland & Stewart
Genre: Historical Fiction
Well, what a book. A Fine Balance is a beautiful story full of tragedy, hope, heartache, and desperation. Set in the 1970s in an unnamed place in India, A Fine Balance centres around a few key characters. Dina Delal – a widowed, mid-40s woman who lives on her own and manages some tailors in her home; Ishvar & Omprakesh – An uncle and nephew duo who work for Dina, and are working to save money to go back to their home village; and Maneck Kohlah – the son of a friend of Dina, who is at college and finds himself lodging in Dina’s home.
The whole book circles around these main characters, and about the trials and tribulations they face, from loss of loved ones, to dealing with The Emergency – a period of expanded government power and crackdowns on civil liberties. The book explores the childhoods and background of all these characters, as well as what brings them together.
The main thing that struck me about this book is that there is a lot of hope throughout the entire story. I felt hopeful for the futures of these characters, and without giving too much away, I found myself crying as I read the last chapter. I won’t say whether it was from happiness or sadness, but it was a very emotional story.
A Fine Balance is spectacularly written, and the environment is so well described that I felt like I was there, in the situations. I learnt a lot about 1970s India, and about the conditions that people lived in, and still do live in and deal with every day. It certainly made me feel grateful for what I have.
I can’t recommend this book enough, so if you haven’t read it – READ IT!
“It was hard for them not to be resentful – the birth of daughters often brought them beatings from their husbands and their husband’s families.”
“Crossing the line of caste had to be punished with the utmost severity.”
“Independence came at a high price: a debt with a payment schedule of hurt and regret.” - Dina
“Few have caught the real sorrow and inexplicable strength of India, the unaccountable crookedness and sweetness, as well as Mistry.”
“A masterpiece of illumination and grace. Like all great fiction, it transforms our understanding of life.”
- The Guardian
If you’ve read this, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts or reading your reviews so please share any links!