Oprah and I have a bit of a checkered past.
I mean, no, we don’t technically have a relationship. If we did, I probably wouldn’t be hanging out on Twitter, or blogging. I’d probably be filming road trips with her and going on month-long vacations to Italy, and I’d have a nanny and a chef and a make-up artist, and I’d wear designer clothes and I’d eat really, really well…
Just look at Gayle.
I’m sorry, where were we?
Oh yes, I was going to talk about Oprah’s Book Club. Oprah used to endorse a new book every month, on her TV show, and she was directly responsible for helping to sell a bazillion books (official figure.) Then she dismantled her book club – then she reinstated it – well, sort of – and now she just talks about books whenever one really catches her interest.
Here’s where our checkered past comes in. You see, some of Oprah’s Book Club picks I loved: She’s Come Undone, The Poisonwood Bible, A Million Little Pieces (yes, I know about the fiction/non-fiction controversy, but James Frey’s writing ROCKS.) And some of Oprah’s picks left me a little cold: Where the Heart Is, Jewel, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.
I didn’t follow Oprah’s Book Club, but it got so much attention, her books were tough to miss. I ended up reading, eh, maybe half of them. One of the selections I bought and read was A Fine Balance, by Rohinton Mistry, which was published in 1995.
The story takes place in the mid 20th-century, and is set in India. It follows a couple of students as they struggle to get an education, and a nearly blind woman who struggles to make a living as a tailor. These lower-caste people, despite all their heart-breaking efforts, slide inexorably into tragedy.
Nothing is sugar-coated in this book: not the injustice of India’s caste system, not the horrors of extreme poverty, not the extremes to which humans will go to survive in these conditions.
The writing is beautiful and detailed. But the story is increasingly bleak. Unlike Angela’s Ashes, there is really no redeeming joy to this book, no happy ending. It’s hard to spend that much time (600 pages) with characters you care about, and have them end up in the most devastating circumstances.
When I finished the book, I was frustrated and depressed. (There is one aspect of the ending to which I have a particular aversion. After you read the book, ask me what it was.) This all does not sound like much of an endorsement. But Mistry’s writing is excellent, and the story is fascinating, and I do recommend it.
Every now and again, it’s probably good to read a story that doesn’t finish with everything tied up neatly, a story that gives you an unflinching look at suffering, a story that fills you with sorrow for the terrible pain that has always been an all too real part of this world.
A Fine Balance is probably the best book I never want to read again.