Friday, February 20, 2009
In the Mood for India
I went to see Slumdog Millionare a couple weeks ago, and that put me in the mood for reading something set in India. Last year around this time, I had a personal 'read India' thing going on, so I had quite a few things to choose from, but I decided I wanted some Rohinton Mistry, author of A Fine Balance, one of my favorite books of 2008, and actually one of my favorite books ever. I decided to go with Family Matters, Mistry's most recent novel.
The novel opens with elderly Nariman, a retired professor, who lives with his stepchildren Coomy and Jal in a fairly roomy apartment and still enjoys his daily walks despite his advancing age and Parkinson's Disease. Nariman has in many ways become the child in his household as Coomy and Jal try to dicate what he does. Perhaps they should have gone walking with Nariman, because eventually he falls and breaks his ankle. The break is particularly bad and when he comes home to the apartment all his physical needs fall on Coomy and Jal, who are quite disgusted by it all. They decide that Nariman would be better off with his daughter Roxana, their half-sister who lives in a very small apartment with her husband and two children. They show up unannounced with Nariman and leave him at the apartment. Roxana is a dutiful daughter with helpful and kind sons and despite the lack of space Nariman thrives in the more positive atmosphere. The story shifts at this point to be told more from the perspective of Roxana's husband Yezad. Yezad was a very complex character. I went from thinking he was a nice fellow, to being annoyed with him but understanding why, to thinking he was an idiot with his business dealings, to thinking he really had a good heart, to finally thinking that he turned into the exact person he didn't want to be. There are a lot of different storylines in this novel, but the heart of the book is domesticity and family, as the title suggests. I actually thought for a moment that Mistry was going to give me a happy ending, but then I read the epilogue where everything you thought was going to happen with these people turned upside down.
I really enjoyed reading this book. Mistry is so very good at understanding the inner workings of people and creates such real and flawed characters that I can imagine going to visit them in India. I think Mistry is one of those writers whose work is very, very good, whose novels are going to be, for me, better than most other things I read. My expectations for his writing are so high, after reading A Fine Balance, that I don't know if anything could live up to it. Can you think of any books/authors that you feel that way about?