Book review: Family matters by Rohinton Mistry

October 8, 2008

Title: Family matters
Author: Rohinton Mistry
Pages: 500

Nariman Vakeel is an eldery widower who stays with two of his step-children in a large but ill-maintained flat in Bombay.

When Nariman breaks his ankle after a fall he becomes bedridden and his step-children, Jal and Coomy, must look after him. Coomy, who cannot bear to look after a man who she feels very little affection for, decides that Nariman’s biological daughter (her half-sister) Roxana must bear the burden of looking after their father for a while. Coomy and Jal push their father onto Roxana who lives in a tiny two-room flat with her husband and two sons.

Roxana’s family is torn apart by the burden of looking after Nariman. Financial troubles, which were bad enough before Nariman arrived, are now much worse because of Nariman’s expensive medication. The characters, especially Roxana’s husband Yezad, are all changed forever by the strife that follows.

As usual, Mistry highlights the darker side of India. In this novel he lashes out at the Shiv Sena (a parochial political party in India) for organizing communal riots, extorting money from local businesses and running matka (a form gambling so popular in India that is become synonymous with gambling itself). He also attacks the (alleged) Parsi obsession with racial purity, at one point one of the characters is likened to Hitler.

Sadly Family matters doesn’t hold a candle to Mistry’s A Fine Balance, which was one of the best books I have ever come across.

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