A Fine Balance, Paperback Book
5 out of 5 (4 ratings)


Set in mid-1970s India, A Fine Balance is a subtle and compelling narrative about four unlikely characters who come together in circumstances no one could have foreseen soon after the government declares a 'State of Internal Emergency'.

It is a breathtaking achievement: panoramic yet humane, intensely political yet rich with local delight; and, above all, compulsively readable.


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Showing 1 - 4 of 4 reviews.

Review by

This was a marvellous novel, combining some almost Dickensian social comment with human resilience in the face of seemingly insuperable adversity, and as so often i feel a certain serendipity about it as I came across it entirely by chance on a charity stall at Highgate Fair. Kismet, maybe!The novel is set in an unspecified coastal city in India in 1975 and centres around the travails of four characters - Dina, a beautiful young widow struggling to keep her head about economic water and desperate to avoid becoming overly dependant upon her smug elder brother, Maleck, son of one of Dina's friends from school who has come to the city to study refrigeration at college and who moves out of his ghastly college hostel to lodge with Dina, and Ishvar and Om, two members of the lowest caste who have foresworn their scheduled careers as tanners to become tailors and who come to the city in response to Dina's advert to work as subcontracted labour in the rapidly burgeoning clothing market.The four of them meet a rich cast of characters (again reminiscent of Dickens at his finest) including a legless and fingerless beggar called Shankar (but more generally referred to on the street as "Worm") who roams the city on a wooden platform fitted with castors, and Rajaram, who collects hair for sale. The overriding ethos of the novel is summed up by Mr Valmik, sometime lawyer, proof-reader and sloganeer, who tells Dina, "There is always hope - hope enough to balance our despair. Or we would be lost." I am inclined to think that there is always despair, enough to balance our hope, but that's another story! That same Mr Valmik, essentially a peripheral character in this sweeping story, loves the work of W. B. Yeats whom he paraphrases throughout ... "I will arise and go now, and go to write this plea, and a convincing petition build, of words and passion made."Awful things happen in this novel but the characters somehow just keep going, gaining the deeper admiration of the reader as they go.

Review by

Wow. Beautiful, brutal and heart breaking, this is an amazing book. Interwoven lives, the stories of families, of families created from friends, the horrible way we sometimes treat those we perceive as different, and whether that treatment can be an integral part of our belonging to a group. The battles everyone fights. Delicious food. Suffering, poverty, hardship, injustice and mistreatment. And the fine balance between hope and despair in India in the 1970s.Also, I listened to this as an audiobook read by John Lee. I'd only ever heard him read China Mieville before, so I wasn't sure if it would work for me - I'm used to him being 'weird'. But he was fantastic, and I think he's up among my favourite narrators now.

Review by

This is an outstanding book. I found it hard going, having to regularly put it down at each moment of injustice in the lives of the characters. There are many moments of injustice as India in the 1970s was a corrupt and unfair society. Lots of what went on in the book upset me, but it felt very important to read it and acknowledge the hardness of life and the way humans adapt to the difficult situations they find themselves in. Those with the hardest lives adapted more capably than those from a more privileged background. Although at times it was a grind to read, it was a grind that felt necessary. It felt truthful.

Review by

A Fine Balance is set in Mumbai between 1975 and 1984 during the mayhem of “The Emergency” - a turbulent time when the government declared a State of Emergency and suspended elections - and civil liberties were ignored. <br/><br/>Four people from different castes are brought together by circumstance. Dina, a young woman who escapes from her life of drudgery with her brother and then has to fight to maintain her independence, Maneck, a young man who grows up on a remote mountain but heads to the city to attend college because development in his village threatens the profitability of the family business, meaning he’ll need a career to fall back on, and finally two low-caste men, an uncle and nephew called Ishvar and Om who have broken with tradition and trained as tailors, and now must travel to the city to find work. <br/><br/>The novel tells the stories of the individuals but also of their overlapping lives and includes a rich cast of secondary characters and stories. It is fascinating and at the same time, one wonders at the atrocities that took place in India during these times. It is such a brilliantly written, colourful and vibrant tale and definitely one of those books I didn't want to finish - always the sign of a great book!

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