This is a work of genius. I cannot begin to review it without saying so. It should be read by everyone who loves books, win every prize, make its author a millionaire, and displace once and for all the idea that Midnight’s Children is a good book about India. Only in fairy tales is such virtue rewarded, and given that Rohinton Mistry wrote Such a Long Journey and saw the 1991 Booker go to Ben Okri, I don’t expect justice this time either. But A Fine Balance is the India novel, the novel readers have been waiting for ever since E M Forster and J G Farrell first attempted to render that vast subcontinent into prose: a novel in which all the suffering and absurdity, terror and beauty, charity and destitution of India are incarnated in two poor tailors, a student and a middle-aged woman.
It is 1975, and Indira Gandhi has declared a ‘State of Internal Emergency’. Two tailors, Ishvar and Omprakesh, have been forced from their village to the city. They find work with Dina Dalal, a middle-class widow. With them, coincidentally, is Maneck, Parsee son of an old school-friend from the Himalayas