Book Review: A Fine Balance

A Fine BalanceA Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, takes you on a whirlwind of a ride through some of the most difficult years of independent India, portraying its four main characters and a myriad of secondary ones, who face the problems of caste and communal violence, discrimination, poverty, “gundaraj” and the dreadful Emergency.

Emergency is a controversial period of India’s history. The elected PM, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, was accused of election rigging by the Allahabad High Court, which was followed by demands for her resignation. In order to stay in power, she(with the voice of the President) declared Emergency in 1975, supposedly to protect the country from internal disturbances and thereby suspending all the Fundamental Rights of the citizens. All her rivals, including members of opposition, trade unions, student unions, etc. were put in prison.

The novel begins with a chance meeting of two tailors, Ishwar Darji and his nephew, Omprakash Darji with a student, Maneck Kohlah on the local train in an unnamed city by the sea (Mumbai), who are all going to meet the same person, Mrs. Deena Dayal. The two tailors are to be hired by Mrs. Dayal for sewing clothes for an export company, and Maneck, who is the son of Deena’s childhood friend, is going to be a paying guest at her place.

We are then made aware about the background of the four characters. Deena strives to be an independent widow, the two tailors have come from the bitter experience of losing their family to caste violence, and Maneck has been sent by his parents to study in a college to get a diploma in air conditioning and refrigeration, which they consider to be a safe choice for their son’s future in the technically growing country.

Under the period of Emergency, each faces the perils associated with life. The two tailors are once kidnapped as a member of falsely gathered crowd for PM’s speech, they become prey to the demonic beautification(losing their jhopadpatti house and condemned to forced labor) and forced sterilization programs, brought about by the dictatorial reign. Deena continues to face the possibility of losing her house and Maneck is emotionally disturbed by the horrors he see taking place around him.

At its center, this novel narrates how these people come to live under the same roof, sharing food, and constituting a family like bond. Dina slowly begins to recognize tailors as someone equal, denouncing her prejudice towards their caste.

“In the WC, the tailors’ urine smell that used to flutter like a flag in the air, and in Dina’s nose, grew unnoticeable….Then it struck her: the scent was unobtrusive now because it was the same for everyone.”

The tailors grow fond of Dina and find a haven for themselves, sleeping in her veranda. Maneck gets over his depression over the world around him and life and makes some genuine friends. But everything changes. Such few moments of high turn into the worst fates imaginable. Rohinton Mistry, propagates a creation of a fine balance in life, of despair and hope, of struggle and survival.

“You see, we cannot draw lines and compartments and refuse to budge beyond them. Sometimes you have to use your failures as stepping-stones to success. You have to maintain a fine balance between hope and despair.’ He paused, considering what he had just said. ‘Yes’, he repeated. ‘In the end, it’s all a question of balance.”

But in the end, everyone loses everything that is vital. Everything decays, the despair wins over the hope and lives are irrevocably changed.

The most striking feature about this work is its true to life scenario and the character sketch and development is impeccable. Rohinton Mistry succeeds in explaining the hardships of the common man of India, through his powerful narrative and story line.

With the tale of intertwining fates and separation, this book pictures how it was and how it still is in some parts of India. The author must further be praised for such secondary characters like the Monkey Man, the hair collector, the Beggarmaster, the Rent collector, the Inspector, etc.

I would recommend this book to anyone willing to read something of significance and something that would make you empathize with the people around you in a new way. It must be taken into account though that it is a sensitive and depressing read.

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I have been left in tears by only a few books. This is one of those books, which stirred such emotions like despair and helplessness in me. I thus wept for all that happens in the world and all that is brought forth by the interminable tide of time.

“What an unreliable thing is time–when I want it to fly, the hours stick to me like glue. And what a changeable thing, too. Time is the twine to tie our lives into parcels of years and months. Or a rubber band stretched to suit our fancy. Time can be the pretty ribbon in a little girl’s hair. Or the lines in your face, stealing your youthful colour and your hair. …. But in the end, time is a noose around the neck, strangling slowly.”
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Book Review: Eleanor and Park

Eleanor & ParkEleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell is a much talked about book, narrating a teenage love story, where the two central characters are portrayed as misfits in their high school. The book tries to focus on certain issues related to race, gender roles and identity, with a certain focus on abusive and disruptive families.

In a few words, my views do not correspond with that of Mr. John Green (an author I admire) in his New York Times review of the book.

The book is set in 1986 in Omaha, Nebraska. To summarize, the book begins promisingly with a half-Korean teen boy, Park, who is fed up of the “morons” at the back of his school bus, when a new girl (dressed in some ways like a guy or rather as someone seeking attention), Eleanor, boards the bus. She fails to find a seat for herself and ends up sitting along side that “stupid Asian kid”. Sharing seats soon transforms into a friendship, and furthermore into a romantic relationship, as Park begins lending his books and starts making mix tapes for her.

Eleanor comes from a troubled family, living in fear in the shadow of her abusive stepfather. And thus, she begins a relationship with Park in private, with all her insecurities bound within. Thus begins long monologues which are supposed to make teenagers teary eyed and make them feel warm and fuzzy. With anecdotes like, “I want to eat his face”, “He is so pretty”, “She has freckles even on her lips”, etc., the book, without any attainable pace, moves on, until Eleanor finds out something terrible that she makes a decision to run away. Park comes to her rescue.

To add into the mysterious note (which this book is not supposed to create, but I would, so as to make the review a tad bit more interesting), what would happen next? Will her stepfather catch her? What would happen to the relationship? Will hearts be broken?

This book is appealing to the fans of authors like John Green and Sarah Dessen.

What I liked about the Book?

1. It is an easy read, and thus, I found it alright to read, paying only half my attention to what was going on.

What I didn’t like about the Book?

1. The entire setting and development is flawed. The narration, whether of school life or Park’s internal discord, whether of Eleanor’s tragic home or of the romantic development, never becomes concrete. An attribution to reality is what this book lacks in. And that is something important for YA and coming of age books. I would put this book in the category overflowing with Nicholas Sparks’ works.

2. The book fails in addressing social issues which it only strives to achieve. The racism is only referred to in sidelines. There is no difficulty faced by Park as such on being half-Korean. Bullying and abusive parents are the issues that might evoke a small response on the part of the reader.

3. The intimate scenes/passages in the book are quite cheesy. The writing is only half good. The back and forth point of view is distracting.

4. The ending is a little abrupt but that is alright. The problem is that it is done in such a way to make the readers swoon and eager to know what happens next. If the author actually wanted to keep the ending abstract, the book could have finished a few pages short of the actual ending. It was deliberately done to evoke discussions on social forums and to add into the charm that teenagers find in such books.

I would recommend fans of YA only, to read this book. This book is not for the readers, seeking a coming of age tale or an adult romance. This book is only good as long as you want a peaceful, simple and uncomplicated reading experience. This book just won’t make you think. And so, if you want a distraction from your thoughts, you might want to give it a try.

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(My review might sound a little blunt but that is how I felt about the book. I failed to empathize with the characters. Many would call me heartless, to which I would reply that my heart works in correspondence with my mind.)

Left with me

left with me, an old worn out novel,

he gave me for a reading,

I returned back one of my own

by an oversight, and thus I carry

his fingerprints ingrained in the words,

that whirl their wings inside my head,

vying through my voice, feeding me

with sweetening and tart rudiments

of the narrative,

.

when I glance at the first leaf,

I discover his mother’s forename

penned carefully, it belonged to her

and I trace (whom I’ve never met)

her trail, in smears of her sweat

as she must have turned the pages,

levying her ownership on the print,

that being possessed by me now,

I feel a thief

.

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A simple piece for dVerse Meeting the Bar. I had earlier added a further two lines, but for me, the end this way holds more meaning.

Day 25: A Book You Wish More People Would’ve Read

I never thought about it. Do I wish that some one would read a book because I have liked it? Nah! Everyone has their own choices, their own desires, regarding the books that they want to read. So, I am going to mold the question to something like, “If some one asks for your suggestion regarding the books he/she shall read, which books would you suggest?”

If that is the case, then I would suggest Looking for Alaska or Paper Towns by John Green to be read particularly by those who are in the age group of 13-19 and 40-50: You would ask me why there is such a contrast in the age groups. I’d advise the teenagers to read it to understand their own thought-process and acknowledge the life situations coming forth for them. And I ask the parents of these teenagers (who are generally between 40-50 years of age) to read them so as to understand their kids better and support them appropriately as they are growing up.

Now, when I have suggested so. I will give a brief overview of these two books.

Looking for Alaska is a tale of friendship primarily but it is also a tale of how things are perceived at an age when you are no longer a child, neither are you an adult. Your thought processes change and you start to think about life and its sorrows. This book follows the narrator Miles as he goes to the boarding school and befriends new people, particularly Chip Martin (his room mate) and a personality named Alaska. This book is divided into two portions- Before and After and they are divided by an event that changes their lives.

That event has a lot of significance in the book but much more than the after effects of it, I liked how the viewpoints of these characters develop through time and their experiences, how they come out to be more understanding pupils. They ask questions and they search answers for them and they end up finding their own answers.

Paper Towns is another novel which explores the lifestyle of teenagers and how they see relationships. This time the book follows the story of narrator Quentin Jacobsen who is in love forever with his idea of a free spirit named Margo Roth Spiegelman. It has quite a lot of similarity with the earlier book but it follows a different plot line and explores some new things. I earlier wrote he is in love with the idea because that is true because he doesn’t even know the girl properly; he just has an idea of who she is and he is crazy about that idea only.

These perceptive ideas is what makes the basis of this book. After a night of adventure with Margo, he founds that she has disappeared and here he decides to go looking for her with the help of his friends. Behind this plot line hides certain stances in the story where our protagonist comes with a new understanding of who people are. They are not what they appear to be, they all have a side no one knows of but still it is there and it is a part of their life.

Isn’t it too much? I must end it now. Whoop! You must be tired reading it all. Thanks for reading. That is all I have got to share right now but for one other thing:

I have started yet another blog (no. of blogs I have- 5) particularly for my reading pursuits. You can visit and follow me at HA Reads Books. But since I started the 30 Day Challenge on this site, I will be completing it here only. But I will be posting the book reviews and other things related on the new blog from now on.

Happy Reading guys!

Day 23: A Book You Wanted But You Haven’t Read So Far

Well, that is a really big title and the same would be my list of such books (in no particular order):

1. The Grapes of Wrath (I am stuck on Pg.50 or somewhere around)

2. The Book Thief

3. Much Ado About Nothing (well it is a drama, still I am sharing it because I discontinued to read it somewhere around in Act II. I want to complete it.)

4. The Bourne Supremacy (I read the first book and started the second one but I got bored after reading the first two chapters)

5. The Divine Comedy

6. The God of Small Things

There are many others but it is better if I end the list here.

It is just that if I start reading a book and get disturbed in the first few pages, I just abruptly stop reading it anymore. And it lies waiting for me so that I could find it once again. There are many books I couldn’t read because I found the language to be the main hindrance. Yes, I find it difficult to feel the book if I am not comfortable with the language. Wuthering Heights is a book I tried to read repeatedly but nothing was making sense to me.

I am more of a modernist when it comes to books. I would rather read a good new novel rather than devoting my time to a classic I can’t enjoy. I am myself reading Jane Eyre right now and I am quite enjoying it but not without a little frustration over the long introspective paragraphs or the dialogues which get sometimes quite tedious to read. But it is not disturbing me to an extent that I would stop reading it.

In simple words, we must read what we enjoy or something we find would enrich our minds and souls in some way. Have a good time and happy reading! Read anything… but just read and keep on reading.

And at last something for you to think about:

Day 22: Favorite Villain From A Book

First of all, I am skipping the prompt for day 21 which pertained to discussing your favorite childhood books. Well, I discussed them already with the prompt for day 14 (favorite childhood authors).

The next prompt is really difficult for me to answer. Villain- well, if truth be said, I did not find the villains/antagonists impressive from the books I have read. May be there are some great villains in many books out there, but I haven’t read them.

If I consider it again, I would consider the governments to be the worst villains. I have read many Sidney Sheldon novels and in almost each one of them, the government plays a negative role.

Like in The Doomsday Conspiracy, a section of the government conspires to kill a number of people and send their agent with wrong information that he had to only look for them so that the government could just talk to them. If I say anything more, the whole story will be revealed. And in The Sands of Time, the Spanish government is all set to kill the Basque rebels due to which lives of certain nuns also come into jeopardy.

I think the governments do make good villains. Because they are easy to loath by the readers because of the fact that they are already are fed up of their respective governments. What do you think about it?

I haven’t got anything else to discuss in this post. That is all. Who is your favorite villain? Tell me a good one so that I could read that book and start liking him/her myself.

Day 20: Favorite Romance Book

Okay, I know people, especially guys, hesitate from telling that they have read romantic books. I am sometimes like that, if truth be said. But I am going to answer the question honestly today. Yes, I have read some romantic books. If you like reading, you can read anything. You do not think about the theme or genre then.

Yes, there are certain books which you can not read because they are just not for you. It isn’t necessary for you to like a popular book. I would raise my hand if you ask a group of men if they have tried reading Fifty Shades of Grey. I dd try but it was not for me. Hence, I left it after reading twenty pages or so. But that is not what I am asked to discuss today. I just wanted to notify that you must not be embarrassed of the books you read.

I have read Twilight series at least twice. People may roll their eyes, so what? I enjoyed reading it. There is nothing wrong in that or is it!? Okay, I am deviating from the topic.

Back to the question, I have read majorly romantic books by Sarah Dessen and Nicholas Sparks. They were an alright read but I never liked them to an extent that I would want to discuss about them. I will rather discuss a book I have mentioned in earlier posts but you may not have possibly read it or even heard of it.

This book is One Day by David Nicholls. It is a very simple tale of two people and their relationship. The book narrates the events of a single day year after year for 20 years, telling the story of these two people. Sometimes they are together while sometimes they are not. It progresses from their first meeting to various stages of their life as the meaning of their relationship changes over time.

Things I like about this book:

1. The character-sketch is brilliant. It is one of the best I have read in the romantic genre.

2. The story is very interesting. Events of a single day year after year, how thrilling is that!

3. The story actually talks about a relationship and its development from the first meeting onward. Moreover, it is not at all cheesy.

4. The story comes full-circle in the end. I particularly liked how the emotions are embedded in this book. And when I say this story is based on the lives of these two main characters, that is not the only thing. There are some other characters that leave an impression on you.

That is all.