Archive for January, 2008


the road

both this review and the wikipedia entry warned us that this would be a dark tale indeed – and they were right

At the time of writing I have recently had a holiday – a road trip. But my road trip was not at all like the trip endured by the father and son of ‘the road’. for example i certainly didnt go hungry, as it was the christmas feasting season, and i dont recall having to hide from or fight any cannibals

the weather was similar – in that it was constantly wet and grey, but luckily for me it was 25 degrees not minus 5 or whatever it was in the book

however, most bookgroupers might be disappointed my holiday wasn’t like ‘the road’ as overwhelmingly people liked the book.

they enjoyed the poetry of the writing, and the way it illustrated moral predicaments and choices in the absence of any society, rules, or over-riding authority. in particular they admired the resourcefulness of the dad and the values of the child. although there was some disagreement as to whether the dad always made the right choices from a values point of view

in my view it was this last point that the book set out to explore. i think it was about the conflict between your values and self interest in an apallingly hopeless post-apocalyptic situation where its highly likely there is no future.

the question it asked was – if there is no law and no future does that mean total selfishness, such as cannibalism is the rational choice, or does it mean complete selflessness and surrender, such as suicide, is the rational choice?

the man choose some kind of middle way where he refused to be a cannibal but he also refused to help people if it would endanger him and the child.

however he did seem to justify this on the basis that he wanted to be the ‘good guys’ not the ‘bad guys’. this seems to assume there is some kind of future and therefore side steps the question of the book. if there truly was no future and no ‘good guys’ i’m not sure how much sense the mans approach really makes. in that case would he just have been punishing the child unnecessarily?

in addition to this somewhat theoretical concern a small minority of us didnt enjoy it because it was too bleak. this minority verdict found that although the writing was great in patches, it wasn’t consistently fabulous enough to provide the joy needed to justify all the pain of reading one bleak page after another.

however, i admit the drab and violent world of the road was magnificently described at times, and that it is impressive to be able to turn horrific images into beautiful poetry, even if only occasionally.


January 17, 2008 at 11:54 am 2 comments


a fine balance

i wont describe what the book is about here as there is a lot of detail at the wikipedia entry and there is a qoute below from a review by Publishers Weekly

Rather I’ll focus on bookgroupers responses to the book.

As it turned out ‘A fine balance’ was the perfect title for this because that was the result of our discussion – a fine balance between for and against.

It was the smallest group ever and the most divisive. The only two bookgroupers to finish it both loved it. whereas the only other two that made the attempt failed about 100 pages in and didnt like it

its not easy to capture the differences of view but i think it was about whether the characters rang true for you, and therefore got you caring about them and what happened to them and in the book as a whole

for negative readers it didnt happen whereas the positive readers got drawn into the world of the book

i think we all agreed the detail of life in a hindu culture was interesting, but again the difference opinion affected the value this gave the reader greatly. for negative readers its way to long to wade through in order to learn about india. whereas the positive readers enjoyed the book anyway, and got this big bonus of the detailed description of an ancient complex culture lived by a billion of our fellow humans.

i think the difference of opinion may have had something to do with way the book dealt with, or failed to deal with, emotions. my impression was it described events and left you to infer or guess the characters emotions. for me this didnt work as i felt i was not getting enough information about how the characters felt about the events to make the characters come to life. clearly, though this is not a problem for other readers as its a v.successful book.

also i’m afraid my impressions are unfair on the book to some extent, because my negativity was not all the about book itself. a lot of it was my horror of the caste system. i found it too distressing reading page after page of detailed description of a culture that is just so sexist towards women, and unjust and violent towards the lower castes/classes. i find it hard to read such stuff when its not my place to do anything about it, or i have no intention of doing anything about it.

it was fascinating and informative but i couldnt cope with a lot of it. perhaps you could argue that if a book has made a reader feel something so strongly, then it has succeeded

Review by Publishers Weekly
The setting of Mistry’s quietly magnificent second novel (after the acclaimed Such a Long Journey) is India in 1975-76, when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, defying a court order calling for her resignation, declares a state of emergency and imprisons the parliamentary opposition as well as thousands of students, teachers, trade unionists and journalists. These events, along with the government’s forced sterilization campaign, serve as backdrop for an intricate tale of four ordinary people struggling to survive. Naive college student Maneck Kohlah, whose parents’ general store is failing, rents a room in the house of Dina Dalal, a 40-ish widowed seamstress. Dina acquires two additional boarders: hapless but enterprising itinerant tailor Ishvar Darji and his nephew Omprakash, whose father, a village untouchable, was murdered as punishment for crossing caste boundaries. With great empathy and wit, the Bombay-born, Toronto-based Mistry evokes the daily heroism of India’s working poor, who must cope with corruption, social anarchy and bureaucratic absurdities. Though the sprawling, chatty narrative risks becoming as unwieldy as the lives it so vibrantly depicts, Mistry combines an openness to India’s infinite sensory detail with a Dickensian rendering of the effects of poverty, caste, envy, superstition,corruption and bigotry. His vast, wonderfully precise canvas poses, but cannot answer, the riddle of how to transform a corrupt, ailing society into a healthy one.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

January 17, 2008 at 11:32 am Leave a comment


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