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?

20 comments:

Lezlie said...

I just read A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines. It was such a powerful book that I immediately ordered three more by him. Now I'm nervous that, as you said, they won't live up to my expectations. Guess we'll have to keep reading and find out! :-)

Lezlie

Anna said...

I have high expectations for Amy Tan novels, and so far she hasn't let me down. Same thing with Anita Shreve; though I've found some are better than others, I've liked them all.

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric

Rachael said...

How was Slumdog Millionaire? I have wanted to see it, but didn't know if it was something worth seeing. I loved "Crossing to Safety" by Wallace Stegner, but did not live "Angel of Repose" as well. I think that can happen when you read books by the same author!

bermudaonion said...

I enjoyed Slumdog Millionaire. I'll have to check out that book.

Marie said...

wow, sounds great. i have high expectations for a.s.byatt and margaret atwood- my two faves!

Karen said...

I saw Slumdog Millionaire a few weeks ago and loved it - I had read the book it is based on (Q&A) quite a while ago and loved it too - I thought it was such an original concept. I loved both of the books by Mistry too - probably A Fine Balance a little more but both great. I'm reading a lot of Alexander McCall Smith books at the moment because I am loving them so much and he hasn't let me down so far!

Iliana said...

You said it's not a happy ending but is it as bad as A Fine Balance? I did love that book but seriously it left me feeling so raw afterwards and for quite a while.

By the way, have you read Manil Suri's books? The Death of Vishnu was very good.

Staci said...

I must read this book. It has been years since I read A Fine Balance but this book has never left me. I'm looking forward to visiting India again!!

JoAnn said...

I loved A Fine Balance and Family Matters has been on my tbr shelf for years. Thanks for reminding me!

I agree with Rachel about Wallace Stegner. Crossing to Safety is one of my all-time favorites, but Angle of Repose didn't come close.

Tara said...

Lezlie, I hope the new Gaines books live up to your expectations! I've only read the one you mentioned.

Anna, Amy Tan is one of those authors I always mean to read and never do. Anita Shreve I go both ways on, like you I like some of her books more than others. What is/are you favorite Amy Tan books?

Rachael, SM was very, very good. The more I think about it the more I like it. I was telling my husband it has a bit of everything. I think viewers who don't know much about India are probably quite shocked.

Bermudaonion, I really like books set in India. Such a different culture than here.

Marie, I love Atwood too! I read part of Possession and that is the last I've read of Byatt. She made me feel so inadequate with all that poetry. What do like in particular by her?

Karen, cool that you read Q&A - I haven't even seen it in stores and you'd think it'd be high profile right now. Glad you enjoyed the Mistry books, I enjoyed his book of short stories as well.

Ilian, goodness no, it's not nearly as heart wrenching, but sad in a different way. I tried Death of Vishnu once and put it down, I think the timing wasn't right b/c I've held on to the book and will try it again.

Staci, A Fine Balance has stayed with me, too. I can't decide if India is a place I'd like to visit or not, to be honest.

JoAnn, I'm going to have to check of Stegner, now that you've both mentioned him!

Anna said...

I'll always have a soft spot for The Joy Luck Club...it was the book that introduced me to Tan. I enjoyed all of her books, but my second fave would have to be The Bonesetter's Daughter.

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric

Danielle said...

Hi Tara--sorry this is just a quick hello. Could you email me your mailing address--I'm hoping to let the Henry Holt people know so they can mail off the Maisie Dobbs books. Many thanks!
danielle_torres@hotmail.com

Danielle said...

Hi Tara--sorry this is just a quick hello. Could you email me your mailing address--I'm hoping to let the Henry Holt people know so they can mail off the Maisie Dobbs books. Many thanks!
danielle_torres@hotmail.com

Tara said...

Anna, thanks for the suggestions! I might have The Joy Luck Club around here somewhere!

Lisa said...

I find myself wanting to read about a particular place every so often, as well. I just watched the movie based on the book -- The Namesake.

Tara said...

The Namesake is an instance in which I've seen the movie - liked it very much, and haven't read the book, but think I should!

Les said...

Like JoAnn, I loved A Fine Balance and Family Matters has been in my stacks forever! I really need to give it a read. Thanks for the great review.

nutmeg said...

I recently saw Slumdog Millionaire too and thought it was truly a great premise for a book/movie. I liked the way they hung the parts of the story together on the "gameshow answers" premise. Very clever.

(Also, as a little aside, I went to see the movie with a couple of my close book club pals - one of which is the sister of the "American lady who gets the tyres of her Mercedes stolen" part. How about that - seeing your sister up on the big screen for the first time?)

Danielle said...

Hey, this time I actually am stopping by after reading your post! :) I'm getting in a 'read India' mood as well. I agree with Iliana--Manil Suri is good, and I have his new one to read as well. I need to check out Rohinton Mistry, too. I know I have favorite authors whose writing I totally respect--maybe Sarah Waters--but in a different way. Or Kazuo Ishiguro. Oh and definitely Elizabeth Taylor!

Tara said...

Les, thanks! I hope there are more Mistry books to come.

Nutmeg, I agree with you about the storyline - great idea and it all fit so well. How cool about your SM connection! I cannot imagine seeing anyone I know personally on the big screen.

Danielle, I need to try Suri again, I just didn't connect with his book the first time. I need to read more Elizabeth Taylor. I read Palladian which I wasn't crazy about and never reviewed here. It was really melodramatic. Have you read that one?