In a southern Indian city, the lives of four individuals intersect when a widow takes a boarder and two tailors into her apartment. Dina Dalal becomes a tailor in order to support herself after her husband’s early death and remain independent of her brother. When Dina is no longer able to make enough money and her eyesight begins to fail, she needs new sources of income. So Dina rents her bedroom to a college student from the north and supplies finished goods to a clothing company. She hires tailors Ishvar and Omprakash, who are refugees from their village, to do the sewing. As the country’s political unrest increases, these individuals cope with new and frightening situations.
A Fine Balance explores everyday life in India during a political emergency and shows the tenuousness of survival for individuals without social status or wealth. Rohinton Mistry weaves a multi-layered story with four fully- realized characters and many minor but unforgettable characters. Mistry fashions the sights, sounds and smells of a city bursting at the seams with people trying to survive. The inhumanity of the powerful towards the powerless and the dignity of the individual are twin themes that thread throughout the novel. A Fine Balance is a haunting story.
Reviewed by ds, 8/02. Other reviews by ds.