Posted by: istop4books | January 15, 2009


Family Matters Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
Another hit out of the ball park for Mistry. After placing “A Fine Balance” on my top 10 list, I was hesitant to read this lest it fell short of the AFB. And to be clear – it did, but only by a pinch.

In this novel Mistry tackles the issue of family; a Parsi family coping and struggling with a bedridden 79 year old parent, 2 children, cramped quarters, a bad job, step siblings. Many of the issues are universal, but Mistry injects them with a dose of India, and in this case, 1990’s Bombay, reality which transports you to that side of the world and sits you down in the family’s living room with grandfather, bedridden and smelly on the settee, and mother in the kitchen preparing tea, boys in the only other room of the flat doing homework, and the hectic, dirty, noisy world of the street below. Woven within this story is another one – that of the grandfather, Nariman Vakeel, and of his love and loss of Lucy and the disaster of his arranged marriage, his regrets, his attempts at reconciliation, his humility in the face of his body abandoning him to the grim indignities of Parkinson’s disease, of his step children dumping him, his son in law resenting him, his grandson adoring him, his daughter Roxana taking gentle care of him while juggling the needs of her 2 boys and her husband’s, Yezad, growing frustrations. Through Yezad, we learn of the difficulties of just arriving at work, corruption, built into the Indian system, the frustration of seeing his family unravel before his eyes and the desperate measures he takes to keep it going.

In the end, this book is about the importance (or diminishing importance) of family, the difficulties of life, of keeping the family together, of happiness – so important to the balance of life in this family. “Then she lets them settle lightly on my arm. ‘What is it, Jehangoo? Aren’t you happy?’ ‘Yes,’ I say. ‘Yes, I’m happy.'”

At times I questioned who the target audience was for this novel. Was it for Westerners who don’t understand India, what makes it tick and how people think? Or was the target Indians – perhaps expats? who need to reevaluate the overwhelming poverty, bureaucracy, the callousness generated by the survival of the fittest, the dishonesty and corruption of the system?

Note: Something that would have been enormously helpful in this book would have been a glossary of terms. I had a very difficult time with all the Indian terms, trying to figure out the meaning from the context became tedious. Also helpful would have been prior knowledge of the religious aspects of the Parsi population of India. They were a people who lived in Persia and rather than be forced to convert to Islam, emigrated to India, and therefore consider themselves Persians. They don’t cremate their dead (another question I had), rather they allow the body to be consumed by vultures.


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