Monday, September 17, 2012

Fiction: Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry

Publisher: Vintage
Date: 2002
Format: paperback
Source: World Literature Today Book Club
Read: for the WLT book club
Pages: 430
Reading time: five days

From GoodReads: Rohinton Mistry’s enthralling novel is at once a domestic drama and an intently observed portrait of present-day Bombay in all its vitality and corruption. At the age of seventy-nine, Nariman Vakeel, already suffering from Parkinson’s disease, breaks an ankle and finds himself wholly dependent on his family. His step-children, Coomy and Jal, have a spacious apartment (in the inaptly named Chateau Felicity), but are too squeamish and resentful to tend to his physical needs. Nariman must now turn to his younger daughter, Roxana, her husband, Yezad, and their two sons, who share a small, crowded home. Their decision will test not only their material resources but, in surprising ways, all their tolerance, compassion, integrity, and faith.

My review: I wasn't sure how much I would enjoy Family Matters because, in many ways, it's just not my usual cup of tea. I picked it up anyway, however, because the author will be on campus this semester, and I wanted to get in on the book club organized by World Literature Today (1, because I'm interested in world literature, and 2, because the monthly book selections are free). Anyway, while I've enjoyed the couple of other Anglo-Indian novels I've read, I wasn't sure I'd enjoy this one about an elderly man's family drama.

My misgivings aside, however, I ended up loving Family Matters. The first part of the book absolutely grabbed at my heart. It's rare that I manage to make a truly personal connection with a novel, but Nariman and his family's situation spoke directly to what my grandparents, mother, and aunts and uncles are currently going through with my grandmother's deteriorating health. Sadly, I've found it difficult to empathize with and pay attention to some of the family's current issues, but reading this novel allowed me to finally gain a decent perspective on what, exactly, a lot of my adult relatives are dealing with.

Besides my personal connection, though, the novel was fascinating and engaging in other ways. Through the story of this single extended family, Mistry succeeds in conveying many of India's, and especially Mumbai's, modern issues within a very relatable frame. Most readers can identify at various levels with the quarrels, closet skeletons, and everyday struggles faced by Nariman, his children, and his grandchildren: such is family life. Mistry adds to this the corruption of Mumbai politics, the ethnic and religious tension between India's many peoples and faiths, and the conflict between tradition and modernity, without letting any of these aspects take control of the main story. The family in the novel is Parsi, a group originating from Persia who follow the Zoroastrian religion. One of the many reasons why I found Family Matters so informative was because I was almost completely unfamiliar with the Parsi community, not to mention their position in India and potential conflicts with other groups. Thus the novel was very educational for me in addition to being a very realistic portrayal of a modern, urban Indian family.

The only thing I really disliked about the book was the ending. The epilogue, at a relatively long 30 pages, left me with little closure. Some of the same issues start popping up again, and I felt like Mistry would perhaps have done better by writing a sequel that explores these even further. The next part of the family saga could certainly work well if developed into another novel.


  1. I felt exactly as you did about the ending. I feel totally unsatisfied--so many things left up in the air. In fact, I came to your site because I was doing a search to see if he had written a sequel. Alas, no. He should. Otherwise, yes excellent book and I learned so much about what it means to be Parsi.

    1. I'd forgotten about wishing for a sequel; it seems like Mistry wanted to make a point by concluding how he did, unfortunately for all of us who didn't like it. One of my friends also read this and left a note on my door when she finished saying she was "dying inside."

      On a more positive note, I picked up Mistry's novel A Fine Balance yesterday at Goodwill and can't wait to start it as soon as I feel like I have the time to tackle the chunkster.

      Thanks for stopping by!