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.
Brick Lane by Monica Ali, an example of postcolonial immigrant fiction, describes the story of Nazneen and her family. She is born in Bangladesh and moves to Tower Hamlets, London with her older husband, Chanu. Brick Lane is the street at the heart of the Bangladeshi community in London. There are two narrators: Nazneen as a third person narrator and her sister, Hasina through her letters to Nazneen.
Themes: family (both the married family of Chanu and family in Bangladesh); female solidarity for both Nazneen and her sister, Hasina; racism and clash of cultures; food and eating; home; and knowledge and education (as seen in Chanu’s certificates and degrees). The idea of the home, the return to the home, the idea on how to make the new place a home are all central concerns in an immigration novel, and described in detail in Brick Lane. There is also the symbol of ice skating which is a fantasy for Nazneen, means of freedom, and which Nazneen accepts at the end of the text. Religion also plays an important part, along with enterprises (Chanu’s employment in the government and as a cab driver, later his soap business), Nazneen’s work as a seamstress, and later her work as a designer with Razia. Also there is Mrs. Islam’s usury where she charges a 33% interest. Spoiler alert- Chanu returns to Bangladesh alone, to open a soap industry. Nazneen’s lover, Karim is also rumored to have returned to Bangladesh. Hasina also runs away with the cook at her place of employment.