A Fine Balance (1995) is Rohinton Mistry‘s second novel, after Such A Long Journey. It is too long at 600+pages. It is a wonderful book set in Mumbai between 1975-1984 (Indira Gandhi’s Emergency features prominently), but it is still too long. There are numerous histories of the four main characters and their previous generations. It reminded me of Shashi Tharoor’s The Great Indian Novel, and its scope is as large as the Mahabharata.
The novel is nevertheless interesting and would probably make a good Hollywood movie. It is tragic but not in the Greek tragedy way. Sad and horrible things happen to characters from the beginning to the end with a slim section of happiness and hope in the middle. The four main characters are Dina Dayal (formerly Shroff); her two employees, an uncle-nephew duo of tailors, Ishvar and Omprakash Darji; and her tenant, Maneck Kohlah, son of her friend and studying refrigeration.
Jasmine by Bharati Mukherjee narrates the story of Jyoti of Hasnapur, Punjab. It describes her struggles as a wife, and later, a caregiver and a partner in the US. each of her identity is connected to a change in name and place. She is seventeen years old when her husband is murdered and when she travels to the US as an illegal immigrant (connection to Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies).
Jyoti is the name given to her by her family; Jasmine is the name given b her Indian husband, Prakash Vijh; Jase is the name given by Taylor, the father of the girl, Duff, who employs her as a caregiver; and Jane, the name given by her second husband in Iowa, Bud Ripplemayer, a banker in Iowa who is paralyzed, and the adopted father of Du, a Vietnamese who also goes through similar struggles and who later leaves them to be with his sister.
“For the uncle, love was control. Respect was obedience. For Prakash, love was letting go. Independence, self-reliance: I learned the litany by heart. But I felt suspended between worlds.”
Bharati Mukherjee, Jasmine, 76.
The world is divided between those who stay and those who leave”.
Bharati Mukherjee, Jasmine, 228
R. K. Narayn for me will always be the author of the novel that resulted in the hit TV series Malgudi Days, and the amazing theme song with 54 episodes are available here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL0CaUqi81mPlHrIk2K9cvha2Zby0VH35d
However, The Guide by R. K. Narayan is a 1958 novel that resulted in the 1965 movie of the same name, starring the late Dev Ananad and Waheeda Rahman. The full movie is available on Youtube. The full text of the novel is available here. Review in The Hindu. A 120-minute U.S. version was written by Pearl S. Buck, and directed and produced by Tad Danielewski. Movie review of the English version in the New York Times. The film was screened at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival, 42 years after its release.
The story is about Railway Raju and how he transforms from a tour guide in Malgudi to a holy saint. He falls in love with Rosie, a married dancer, lives with her after she runs away from her husband, Marco, and helps her to become famous. He is imprisoned for two years on a forgery charge and then transforms into a saint based on the advice that he dispenses to the villagers. He takes shelter in a temple and starts talking to one of the villagers, Velan, who unconsciously helps him in this metamorphosis. In a miscommunication, Raju ends up taking a vow to feast for twelve days to bring rain to the village. The ending is inconclusive as to whether he lives or dies.
Fasting, Feasting by Anita Desai, published in 1999, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for fiction in 1999. which was awarded to J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace.
Rana Dasgupta describes the novel as, “The novel, as the title suggests, is about practices of the body. It enters households from their refrigerators, dining tables and kitchens, and it recounts human relationships in the language — not only of fasting and feasting — but also of greed, craving, taboo, disgust, bulimia and every other kind of relation to food. With its two linked novellas, one set in India and the other in the United States, the novel gives an excruciating account of how society can seize control of individuals — especially women — through such practices as eating, and remove them from everything they intended to be” (Dasgupta).
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison is a canonical text. It is set in Lorain, Ohio after the Great Depression and narrates the story of Pecola Breedlove , who wants blue eyes to conform to the notion of white beauty. There are two narrators: Claudia MacTeer, whose family takes in Pecola as a foster child, and the third person narrator who traces the history of Pecola, and the lives of her parents when they were young, Pauline (Polly) and Charles (Cholly) Breedlove. The main issues among many are racism, perception of beauty, class conflicts, incest, seasons, and narration. vision, seeing,a nd being perceived are other motifs, including the standards of cleanliness and dirtiness. The text uses uses a Dick-and-Jane narrative throughout the novel.
The Kite Runner, the debut novel of Khaled Hosseni, narrates the story of Amir, a rich boy from the Wazir Akbar Khan district of Kabul, and his unlikely friendship with Hassan, a Hazara son of the servant of the house, Ali.
Themes: class conflict; repetition of motif across generations- planting money under the mattress of Hassan and Wahid, Sohrab and Hassan pointing a slingshot at Aasef (254); home across spaces (Kabul, Afghanistan; Islamabad and Karachi, Pakistan; and San Francisco); male solidarity among the Afghan immigrants in SF; childbirth and adoption (Amir’s family in Afghanistan, surrogate father in Rahim Khan, Soraya’s infertility and the adoption of Hassan’s son, Sohrab); and family history and secrets (spoiler alert: Hassan is Amir’s half-brother, Soraya’s running away. her parents’ habits and manners (154)). Continue reading