Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry

Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry  (2002, 448 pages)

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-

Mel u


Mystica said...

I just finished A Fine Balance - my first read by this author. I'd love to get to this one as well.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Mel, this is embarrassing, to say the least! Thanks very much...I appreciate your thoughtfulness. Your fine review of FAMILY MATTERS is prompting me to read more Indian literature. Frankly, I haven't read much. I can identify with Rohinton Mistry's Bombay, the setting for his three major novels including SUCH A LONG JOURNEY and A FINE BALANCE, as well as his portrayal of Zoroastrians (Parsis), one of the most educated and progressive communities in India. I haven't read A FINE BALANCE yet. Mistry is, unarguably, one of the finest writers I've read in the past two decades. Thanks again...

Mel u said...

Myatica-it is too bad we cannot swap books! I would love to read Fine Balance

Prashant C. Trikannad -my remarks were very sincere-have you yet read the 2008 Booker Prize winning White Tiger-it gets mixed reviews

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Mel, I'm afraid I haven't read THE WHITE TIGER by Aravind Adiga which received some good reviews in the Indian press.

JoAnn said...

A Fine Balance is truly a masterpiece! Family Matters has been on my shelf for years... don't know what I'm waiting for.

WordsBeyondBorders said...

//Call me old fashioned but I prefer "Bombay" to "Mumbai" and if Mistry is right so do most of the people who live there.//
Not just Bombay/Mumbai it's the same in other cities too. I for one feel at home in 'Madras' rather than in 'Chennai'. I think similar sentiments would echo in Calcutta/Kolkatta and Bangalore/Bengaluru.

Yes, Aravind Adiga's works have got mixed reviews, particularly his second novel has been pretty much panned.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mel: Charles and Yoda are gorgeous - I had a siamese cat when I was a kid - "Bugs" so I'm partial to them. I read A Fine Balance a few years ago and loved it - it was sad and long and I was sorry when it ended. I have Family Matters on my shelves and haven't gotten around to it, I'll shift it up after reading your review. Happy reading, Ruby

michael alenyikov said...

I recall "A Fine Balance" as one of the best novels I've ever read. Truly astonishing.

Mel u said...

Prashant C. Trikannad-I think I will put off reading White Tiger maybe until next year-

WordsBeyondBorders-thanks very much for sharing your feelings on the name changes of Indian cities-as of now I am delaying reading Aravind Adiga for a while-

Kathy-if A Fine Balance is as all who have read both say, a good bot better than Family Matters I wish to read it very soon-thanks very much for the kind words on my cats!

michael alenyikov-I am getting more and more eager to read A Fine Balance-thanks very much for your comment and visit

Mel u said...

Joann=I am really interested in reading A Fine Balance now-I would love to read a post by you on Family Matters-

Buried In Print said...

This is the only book of his that I haven't read, and I feel like I'm "saving" it, but that's silly, because I could always re-read too, right?

I also really enjoyed Such a Long Journey a novel which doesn't get talked about as often, but I think it tends to get overlooked because so many people begin by reading A Fine Balance, which is so expansive, that a slimmer volume just doesn't seem like it can compare (and it was the only other novel of his available when AFB hit the Oprah charts). But I thought it was every bit as well-done.

Thanks for encouraging me to make time for Family Matters; you do make it sound unmissable.