A Fine Balance: Oprah's Book Club No. 44

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A Fine Balance: Oprah's Book Club No. 44

by Rohinton Mistry

McClelland & Stewart | April 5, 1997 | Trade Paperback |

4.7069 out of 5 rating. 116 Reviews
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A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry's stunning internationally acclaimed bestseller, is set in mid-1970s India. It tells the story of four unlikely people whose lives come together during a time of political turmoil soon after the government declares a "State of Internal Emergency." Through days of bleakness and hope, their circumstances - and their fates - become inextricably linked in ways no one could have foreseen. Mistry's prose is alive with enduring images and a cast of unforgettable characters. Written with compassion, humour, and insight, A Fine Balance is a vivid, richly textured, and powerful novel written by one of the most gifted writers of our time.


From the Hardcover edition.

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 736 Pages, 5.12 × 8.27 × 1.18 in

Published: April 5, 1997

Publisher: McClelland & Stewart

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0771060548

ISBN - 13: 9780771060540

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– More About This Product –

A Fine Balance: Oprah's Book Club No. 44

A Fine Balance: Oprah's Book Club No. 44

by Rohinton Mistry

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 736 Pages, 5.12 × 8.27 × 1.18 in

Published: April 5, 1997

Publisher: McClelland & Stewart

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0771060548

ISBN - 13: 9780771060540

Read from the Book

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. P
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From the Publisher

A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry's stunning internationally acclaimed bestseller, is set in mid-1970s India. It tells the story of four unlikely people whose lives come together during a time of political turmoil soon after the government declares a "State of Internal Emergency." Through days of bleakness and hope, their circumstances - and their fates - become inextricably linked in ways no one could have foreseen. Mistry's prose is alive with enduring images and a cast of unforgettable characters. Written with compassion, humour, and insight, A Fine Balance is a vivid, richly textured, and powerful novel written by one of the most gifted writers of our time.


From the Hardcover edition.

From the Jacket

A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry's stunning internationally acclaimed bestseller, is set in mid-1970s India. It tells the story of four unlikely people whose lives come together during a time of political turmoil soon after the government declares a "State of Internal Emergency." Through days of bleakness and hope, their circumstances - and their fates - become inextricably linked in ways no one could have foreseen. Mistry's prose is alive with enduring images and a cast of unforgettable characters. Written with compassion, humour, and insight, A Fine Balance is a vivid, richly textured, and powerful novel written by one of the most gifted writers of our time.


From the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Rohinton Mistry is the author of three novels, all of which have been shortlisted for the Booker Prize, and a collection of short stories, Tales from Firozsha Baag.
 
His first novel, Such a Long Journey, won the Governor General''s Award, the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book, and the SmithBooks/Books in Canada First Novel Award. It was made into an acclaimed feature film in 1998.
 
A Fine Balance was winner of the Giller Prize, the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book, the Los Angeles Times Fiction Prize, the Royal Society of Literature''s Winifred Holtby Award, and Denmark''s ALOA Prize. It was shortlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the Irish Times International Fiction Prize, and the Prix Femina. In 2002, A Fine Balance was selected for Oprah's Book Club.
 
Family Matters won the Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize for Fiction and the Canadian Authors Association Fiction Award. It was shortlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize.
 
Born in Bombay, Rohinton Mistry has lived in Canada since 1975. He was awarded the Trudeau Fellows Prize in 2004, and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2005. Elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2009, he was a finalist for the 2011 Man Booker International Prize, and winner of the 2012 Neustadt International Prize for Literature. In translation, his work has been published in more than thirty languages.

From Our Editors

In a small apartment somewhere in India, a fiercely independent widow is determined to remain independent. She employs a very small group of people to sew clothes and invites them into her home. Slowly, inevitably, the four become great friends, leaning heavily on each other for support. But when everything around them begins to collapse, each of them must decide for themselves how best to survive. Caste violence, gender oppression, and the perennial privations of the poverty-stricken masses combine in the past and present stories of Rohinton Mistry's compassionate characters. By weaving together the disparate lives of these four people, A Fine Balance itself achieves a balance of complete and utter despair and indelible hope.

Editorial Reviews

“A masterpiece of illumination and grace. Like all great fiction, it transforms our understanding of life.” – The Guardian (U.K.) “This novel has the courage to remember and to reaffirm who we are, one by one; it continues, in the tradition of the great novels, to celebrate the luminous and unquenchable human spirit.” – Globe and Mail “Few have caught the real sorrow and inexplicable strength of India, the unaccountable crookedness and sweetness, as well as Mistry.” – Time “A towering masterpiece by a writer of genius.…” – The Independent (U.K.) “An astonishing novel…full of wisdom and laughter and the touches of the unexpectedly familiar through which literature illuminates life.” – Wall Street Journal “A work of stature…in scope, insight, and above all compassion for human beings.” –Montreal Gazette “Those who continue to harp on the inevitable decline of the novel ought to…consider Rohinton Mistry.” – New York Times Book Review of Books “The story unfolds with the grace and beauty of a butterfly’s wing…extraordinary.” – The Times (U.K.) “Mistry has demonstrated once again the enduring power of fiction to make sense of it all simply by telling a story…Read it.” – Vancouver Sun “Every word of it seems like a fleck of brilliant light on a dancing ocean.…A major ac
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Bookclub Guide

US

1. Why has Mistry chosen not to name the Prime Minister or the City by the Sea, when they are easily recognizable? Does recognition of these elements make any difference in your attitude toward the story?

2. Is Nusswan presented entirely as a villain, or does he have redeeming features? What are his real feelings toward Dina?

3. How does Dina''s position within her family reflect the position of women in her culture and social class? Is the status of Om''s sisters the same as Dina''s, or different? What sorts of comparisons can you make between the roles and functions of women in India (as represented in this novel) and in America?

4. Post-Independence India has seen much religious and ethnic violence: for instance, the mutual slaughter of Hindus and Muslims after Partition (1947), during which Ishvar and Narayan saved Ashraf and his family, and the hunting down and killing of Sikhs after the Prime Minister''s murder, witnessed by Maneck. How does the behavior of the characters in the novel, ordinary Hindus, Parsis, and Muslims, contrast with the hatred that inspired these terrible acts? How much of this hatred seems to be fomented by political leaders? Dukhi observes bitterly "that at least his Muslim friend treated him better than his Hindu brothers" [p. 115]. What does this say about ethnic and religious loyalties, as opposed to personal ones?

5. After Rustom''s death, Dina''s primary goal is self-reliance. But as the novel progresses and she makes new friends, she begins to change her ideas. "We''ll see how independent you are when the goondas come back and break your head open," Dina says to Maneck [p. 433]. Does she find in the end that real self-reliance is possible, or even desirable? Does she change her definition of self-reliance?

6. Most people seem indifferent or hostile to the Prime Minister and her Emergency policies, but a few characters, like Mrs. Gupta and Nusswan, support her. What does the endorsement of such people indicate about the Prime Minister? Can you compare the Prime Minister and her supporters with other political leaders and parties in today''s world?

7. Why does Avinash''s chess set become so important to Maneck, who comes to see chess as the game of life? "The rules should always allow someone to win," says Om, while Maneck replies, "Sometimes, no one wins" [p. 410]. How do the events of the novel resemble the various moves and positions in chess?

8. Dina distances herself from the political ferment of the period: "Government problemsÑgames played by people in power," she tells Ishvar. "It doesn''t affect ordinary people like us" [p. 75]. But in the end it does affect all of them, drastically. Why do some, like Dina and Maneck, refuse to involve themselves in politics while others, like Narayan and Avinash, eagerly do so? Which position is the better or wiser one?

9. When Ishvar and Om are incarcerated in the labor camp, Ishvar asks what crime they have committed. "It''s not a question of crime and punishment-it''s problem and solution," says the foreman [p. 338]. If it is true that there is a problem-the vast number of homeless people and beggars on city streetsÑwhat would a proper and humane solution be?

10. People at the bottom of the economic heap frequently blame so-called middlemen: people like Dina, who makes her living through other people''s labor, or like Ibrahim the rent collector. Do such middlemen strike you as making money immorally? Who are the real villains?

11. How would you sum up Beggarmaster: Is he ruthless, kind, or a bit of both? Does he redeem himself by his thoughtful acts, the seriousness with which he takes his responsibilities toward his dependents? In a world this cruel, are such simple categories as "good" and "bad" even applicable?

12. When Beggarmaster draws Shankar, Shankar''s mother, and himself, he represents himself as a freak just like the other two. What does this vision he has of himself tell us about him?

13. The government''s birth control program is enforced with violence and cruelty, with sterilization quotas and forced vasectomies. But is birth control policy in itself a bad thing? Dina tells Om, for example, "Two children only. At the most, three. Haven''t you been listening to the family planning people?" [p. 466]. How might family planning be implemented in a humane fashion?

14. After Dina''s father dies, her family life is blighted until she marries Rustom. In later years, she chooses to withdraw from her natural family; it is not until her year with the tailors and Maneck that she again comes to know what a family might be. What constitutes a family? What other examples of unconventional "families" do you find in the novel?

15. Why do Ishvar, Om, and Dina survive, in their diminished ways, while Maneck finally gives up? Is it due to something in their pasts, their childhoods, their families, their characters?

16. "People forget how vulnerable they are despite their shirts and shoes and briefcases," says Beggarmaster, "how this hungry and cruel world could strip them, put them in the same position as my beggars" [p. 493]. Does A Fine Balance show people''s vulnerability, or their fortitude?

17. What effect is achieved by the novel''s mildly comic ending, with Om and Ishvar clowning around at Dina''s door? Is the ending appropriate, or off-balance?

18. The novel gives us a vivid picture of life for members of the untouchable caste in remote villages. Why might such an apparently anachronistic system have survived into the late twentieth century? Does it resemble any other social systems with which you are acquainted? Why do so few of its victims fight the system, as Narayan does? Why do so few leave the village: is it from necessity, social conservatism, respect for tradition?

Discussion questions provided courtesy of Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. All rights reserved.

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