P Bryant: Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed for Goodreads. RM : Why thank you. (breaks down completely) RM: I I (begins to crumple too) (Sounds of weeping) PB : And poor Roshan..
Gustad Noble, the protagonist, is an archetype for hardworking, decent men everywhere- a lowly bank employee, he supports his family of wife & three children on his meagre salary but is overwhelmed by events beyond his control--his son's refusal to join IIT, a premier engineering institute, (like most middle/lower middle class Indians, Gustad also sees education as a ticket to a better life), his daughter's illness & the treachery of a dear friend: How swiftly moved the fingers of poverty, soiling and contaminating...Sleep was no longer a happy thing for him then, but a time when all anxieties intensified, and anger grew-a strange, unfocussed anger-and helplessness; and he would wake up exhausted to curse the day that was dawning. This book will appeal to minority religious & ethnic groups, dealing as it does with any such group's concerns with issues of identity & assimilation, here in this case- the Parsis. Typically, the Noble family lives in Khodabad building, peopled by other Parsis- all memorable & eccentric characters! The power of this book lies in its intimate details of family life & its honest-to- goodness evocation of reality- it brings alive the India of the 70s as kids we were slathering our skin with Odomos mosquito repellant cream even in the early 80s though the generic drugs were long being replaced by the branded ones. One could say that the ideas expressed here are that of a character not the writer's but then Rohinton Mistry feels nothing but contempt for the Indian political class in general & who can really blame him!
It is a touching story of an Indian family in the early seventies, a turbulent time in India's history.
Update April 2016: I noticed, in connection with the banning of Naipaul's An Area of Darkness in India, that the University of Mumbai banned this book with alacrity upon the threat of violence from a rightwing political group looking for attention. So in the end, what is the difference between a criminal group of thugs in India arguing for the banning of a book and those of quite a different political stance who recently fought to stop Germaine Greer, a noted public speaker and thinker for 50 years, from appearing on university soil? He can think independently, and he can choose. This is an urban middle-class story set against the backdrop of the period of war with Pakistan, a world I really only started discovering through Mistry's books.
I have the name Rohinton Mistry etched on my brain for he is the author of my favourite book of all time A Fine Balance. It is brilliantly written in what I would call trademark Mistry language (having now read a whole two of his books!) compelling and intricate with great character descriptions.
Instead, I'd like to focus on how this book made me feel. No matter how different Indians are from each other, the Indianess that we share cannot be denied.
Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance is one of the most deeply affecting books I've ever read. My constant mental comparisons with AFB probably precluded a decent, sane, unbiased reading of this novel. Long Journey is a simple, perfectly good book about a Parsi man in Bombay who's very nostalgic about the better days of his life - a life that's taking a turn for the worse amidst a national turmoil, the constant threat of war and unrest within the family. A contained, perfectly good novel that isn't overwhelming except in the depiction of the patriarchial (typical Indian) mindset.
It is a well woven story, but as a first novel, perhaps does not go deep enough into some themes, and includes a few too many.
Any 'adult' who has ventured out of childhood and doesn't know how to get back, who's improvising, making things up as he goes, not having a clear answer for every question being asked. It's almost strange the way Mistry embeds Gustad's childhood into his adult life. I love the way Mistry is able to bring about humour in the gravest moments - like the funeral of a dear friend, multiple funerals in fact, of a riot where someone close to him dies. When you don't have a character narrating the story for you, you tend to be a fly on the wall observing things as they happen.
I felt like I got to know this group of middle-class Indians and their microcosm of that larger world a little bit better.
Mistrys first novel, Such a Long Journey (1991), brought him national and international recognition. The book won Canadas Giller Prize, the Commonwealth Writers Award, and the Los Angeles Times Book Award.