Before I begin my post on this very powerful novel about family life in Mumbai, once called Bombay, I wish to thank Prashant C. Trikannad of Chess, Comics, Crosswords, Books, Music, Cinema for suggesting I expand my meagre readings in Indian Literature to include a novel by Rohinton Mistry, known for writing about the lives of people who live in Bombay. (Call me old fashioned but I prefer "Bombay" to "Mumbai" and if Mistry is right so do most of the people who live there.)
Mystry was born in India in 1952 and emigrated to Toronto Canada in 1975 with his wife. He studied at The University of Toronto, writes in English and is a Canadian citizen. All of his novels are about life in India in the second half of the 20th century. He has won numerous literary awards including the Governor General's Prize for Canadian works and has been short listed two times for the Booker prize. Thanks to Oprah Winfrey selecting it for her book club, his second novel, A Fine Balance, sold several hundred thousand copies.
Family Matters is set in Bombay in the 1990s. It focuses on the lives of the extended family of a former professor, now very elderly and dependent on his relatives for care due to his numerous health problems. After a long romance with woman he truly loved, at the aggressive suggestion of his parents, he married a woman that was, like he and his family as far back as anyone knows, Parsi. Parsis in India are descended from immigrants from Persia in the 10th century who left Persia for India so they could practice their religion, Zoroastrianism (a religion six centuries older than Christianity). As I learned in the novel, the Parsi are declining in numbers due to a low birthrate so there is a lot of pressure not to marry outside your religion.
The drama in the story comes from the impact taking care of their step father has on his step-daughter and son and their families. The families are beautifully done and I really felt like I was listening in on real conversations. One of the dominant forces in the novel is Bombay (it is almost always called that in the novel). There are so simply great descriptions of life in the city. Mistry does not in any way hide the corruption, crowding and huge amount of religious and caste discord that can make the city a miserable place but you can tell the city is very much loved for its deep history and its powerful ambiance.
I was emotionally involved with the characters and felt their joy and pain and the tedium of their lives when the book began to focus on the medical needs of the step father.
Family Matters is a very good novel. The dialogues are great. The relationships are totally perfect. There is more or less a happy ending after lots of troubles. I really liked the epilogue that flashed five years forward to show how the people were all doing. There is also a lot to be learned about the culture of the Parsi and the religion of Zoroastrianism from this great book. I hope to read his A Fine Balance in the not too distant future as it is considered his best work and the definitive Mumbiai/Bombay novel.
Be sure to check out Chess, Comics, Crosswords, Books, Music, Cinema by Prashant C. Trikannad for some great posts on a wide range of topics.
Please share your experience with Mistry with us-