BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: Entertainment  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
EDITIONS
Thursday, 17 October, 2002, 17:12 GMT 18:12 UK
Mistry weaves a masterly tale
Rohinton Mistry
The novel is set in contemporary Bombay

Modern-day Bombay is the setting for this colourful novel about the lives of three generations of a Parsi family.

Nariman Vankeer is the protagonist, to whom much suffering and hardship is attributed.

As he reaches his 79th birthday, the effects of age dominate his and the family's every moment, in the same way as if there was a newborn baby in the house.

Although wracked with Parkinson's disease, the cantankerous professor refuses to let his frailty stand in the way of some of the last pleasures in his life.

Rohinton Mistry
Many of the minor characters are delightfully drawn
An accident leaves him incapacitated and more of a burden on his late wife's children by her first marriage, Jal and Coomy.

Spinster Coomy is a bitter woman who sees Nariman's injury as another way to add more misery to her family, which started when he married her mother and made her so unhappy.

Nariman's behaviour in his younger days is played out in a series of flashbacks - from his decision to obey his family and marry a Parsi to his improper relationship with non-Parsi Lucy - releasing ghosts from the past.

The one happy thing to come out of his marriage is his doting daughter Roxana, and Coomy, feeling she has shouldered enough of the burden of looking after the sick man, eventually foists her step-father upon her half-sister.

The pressure soon grows on Roxana and her husband Yezad, leading him into a deception which he would normally find abhorrent.

Balance

The story focuses on the struggles to deal with all the pain and joy that family can bring, while also making ends meet in the constant fight to keep poverty away - the likes of which is experienced by half of Bombay.

Mistry often goes off on a tangent to interweave the woes of the family with flashes of the lives of those they meet.

One touching character is that of the shopkeeper who has a sideline in writing letters for the illiterate to send to their families.

The scribe charges by the page, although his kindness means he rarely stops if they run out of money.


Although there is much despair throughout, it is not a bleak tale

The simple language used by Mistry, although interspersed with unfamiliar Indian phrases and terms, gives the book a traditional family saga feel, as we are allowed into the lives of Nariman's nearest and dearest.

He explores the age-old dilemma of how much family responsibility we take on contrasted with the need to go forward and live our own lives - often leaving a sense of betrayal and helplessness.

There are comic moments alongside the heavy misery endured, combined with touching human emotions such as the ever-closening relationship between Nariman and his grandson Jehangir.

There also seems to be an obsession with bodily functions, with a commode being an instrument to reflect the pain that everyone is experiencing.

Moving

After a while, all the talk of Nariman's bowels can be quite unsettling.

Mistry depicts Bombay as corrupt, dirty and overcrowded, doing little to dispel the picture of a city which has passed its glory days but is still living in the past.

It is sometimes easy to forget it is set in modern-day India and the references to Jurassic Park and Michael Jackson serve as a reminder that this is a contemporary novel.

In Family Matters, Mistry has created a three-dimensional family torn between tradition, duty and love - leaving everyone confused.

Although there is much despair throughout, it is not a bleak tale, but one that wills you to believe that the goodness the characters try to display will eventually lead them to a happy ending.

Family Matters is published by Faber and Faber.

Coverage of the 2002 Booker Prize from BBC News Online and BBCi Arts


REVIEWS

IN AUDIO

ALSO FROM THE BBC

TALKING POINT
See also:

17 Oct 02 | Entertainment
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Entertainment stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Entertainment stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes