On Mistry's Family Matters Okay,


On Mistry's Family Matters

Okay, because it was due at the Library and could not be renewed, I blitzed (well, actually crawled) through Rohinton Mistry's marvelous new work, Family Matters. There are points in the book with which I must disagree, if the author truly supports the contentions of his characters; however, here are some varied insights from the remarkable work.

from Family Matters Rohinton Mistry Sometimes when Mr. Kapur spoke about 1947 and Partition, Yezad felt that Punjabi migrants of a certain age were like Indian authors writing about that period, whether in realist novels of corpse-filled trains or in the magic-realist midnight muddles, all repeating the same catalogue of horrors about slaughter and burning, rape and mutilation. . . (p. 130)

"This beautiful city of seven islands, this jewel by the Arabian Sea, this reclaimed land, this ocean gift transformed into ground beneath our feet, this enigma of cosmopolitanism where races and religions live side by side and cheek by jowl in peace and harmony, this diamond of diversity, this generous goddess who embraces the poor and the hungry huddled masses, this Urbs Prima in Indis, this dear, dear, city now languished--I don't exaggerate--like a patient in intensive care, Yezad, my friend, put there by small, selfish men who would destroy it because their coarseness cannot bear something so grand, so fine. (p. 138)
Would he, he wondered? What folly made young people, even those in middle age, think they were immortal? How much better, their lives, if they could remember the end. Carrying your death with you every day would make it hard to waste time on unkindness and anger and bitterness, on anything petty. That was the secret: remembering our dying time in order to keep the stupid and ugly out of your living time. (p. 310)

One must have a certain amount of respect for an author who can deliver such a magnificent off-hand slam against Salman Rushdie and his much lauded, nearly unreadable opus.

If I were to fault Mr. Mistry for one thing, it would be that he assumes too much acquaintance with Parsi ritual, food, and life. Parsi is the Indian, and perhaps larger modern name for Zarathustrians, the name by which what we might term Zoroastrians may prefer to be known. Sometimes there are insufficient hints of what is going on for it to be clear. For example, one must go outside the book to discover what the "Towers of Silence" are and what is involved in a Parsi funeral and burial. Almost none of the food is described, and that puts one at a distance.

But if he has a virtue as a writer, it is his humanity. There is no one in the book who is utterly deplorable. People do awful things to one another, but you find it hard to dislike any of them.

I compare this book to another in which one of the central figures has Parkinsons--Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections. In Franzen's book the family is largely dysfunctional (as it is in Mistry's). There is not a single likable character in Franzen's book--they are all cases of immature arrested emotional development (which judging from the author's reaction to Ms. Winfrey's handing to him of several million dollars by her recommendation, might characterize the author himself). In Mistry's book every character is human, if not likeable. Even those you are inclined to dislike, you come to understand in the course of the novel and you have genuine compassion for the situations in which they find themselves.

This family struggles against things that we in the comfortable nations of the west can only begin to imagine. For example, they cannot afford the medications for their father's Parkinsons without themselves having to eat little but onions and potatoes. Mr. Mistry does a superb job of making your aware of what life-on-the-edge means--how uncertain everything is. I cannot make this more clear except by spoiling the novel for those who have not read it, so I instead encourage everyone to read it and begin to understand what it means to be part of the impoverished in underdeveloped countries.

As with A Fine Balance I left the book uplifted and with a clear vision of some of the things that infiltrate and affect the lives of all families. A beautiful, humane, and ultimately kind book--very highly recommended.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on December 30, 2002 10:30 AM.

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