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Such a Long Journey This book is suffused in such melancholy that I m still unable to shake off the feeling.In Paradise Lost, Milton described Hell as a place without hope such is Bombay, India in 1971 overflowing gutters, mounds of fetid garbage, dirt from the very top.One could live with chronic water shortage, load shedding, adulterated milk still same same , but how to This book is suffused in such melancholy that I m still unable to shake off the feeling.In Paradise Lost, Milton described Hell as a place without hope such is Bombay, India in 1971 overflowing gutters, mounds of fetid garbage, dirt despair everywhere a state of general apathy which is only symptomatic of the deep rot within emanating from the power centre in Delhi from the very top.One could live with chronic water shortage, load shedding, adulterated milk still same same , but how to live with chronic shortage of hope and happiness Gustad Noble, the protagonist, is an archetype for hardworking, decent men everywhere a lowly bank employee, he supports his family of wife three children on his meagre salary but is overwhelmed by events beyond his control his son s refusal to join IIT, a premier engineering institute, like most middle lower middle class Indians, Gustad also sees education as a ticket to a better life , his daughter s illness the treachery of a dear friend How swiftly moved the fingers of poverty, soiling and contaminatingSleep was no longer a happy thing for him then, but a time when all anxieties intensified, and anger grew a strange, unfocussed anger and helplessness and he would wake up exhausted to curse the day that was dawning.The sadness in this book is not always a full blown tragedy rather the slow, everyday corrosive sadness there is a birthday dinner here mark, not b day party which was so upsetting, I think I ve never read any b day description like that except perhaps in Pinter s play.This is a family that lives from paycheck to paycheck, any unexpected expenditure they could lose the veneer of middle class respectability this is especially bitter considering Gustad s once priviledged upbringing, family fortune lost due to an unscruplous uncle No wonder, he frequently regresses seeks refuge in memoriesIt was pitch dark but he did not switch on the light,for the darkness made everything seem clear and well orderedthe furniture from his childhood gathered comfortingly about him The pieces stood like parentheses around his entire life, the sentinels of his sanity.The omniscient narrative of this family drama plays out against the backdrop of larger tragedy of the East versus West Pakistan conflict, leading to influx of millions of Bengali refugees in India, the 1971 Indo Pakistan war the creation of Bangladesh.Initially the war is there only as grim headlines, the refugee relief tax something that Gustad consistently ignores the fellow has enough on his plate but the war catches up with him in a totally unexpected way This book will appeal to minority religious ethnic groups, dealing as it does with any such group s concerns with issues of identity assimilation, here in this case the Parsis.The Parsis came to India around 7th 10th century, fleeing religious persecution in Persia now Iran Honest hardworking, they soon established themselves in agriculture later in trade commerce, but they are notorious for their inward looking ways, paranoid about their dwindling numbers.Typically, the Noble family lives in Khodabad building, peopled by other Parsis all memorable eccentric characters There is a Miss Havisham like character too We find that initially almost all of Gustad s interactions are with Parsis only the journey of the title refers to the ultimate journey of mankind death the journey up the Tower of Silence butthan that it is Gustad s inner journey from a self absorbed, bitter man, unable to connect with anyone or anything, to a compassionate, understanding, accepting forgiving person finally at peace with himself and others what a journey it is The power of this book lies in its intimate details of family life its honest to goodness evocation of reality it brings alive the India of the 70s as kids we were slathering our skin with Odomos mosquito repellant cream even in the early 80s though the generic drugs were long being replaced by the branded ones.The book ran into political controversy in 2010 when the ruling political party in Maharashtra, The Shiv Sena, banned it from the Mumbai University s English lit syllabus, on charges of extremely derogatory language against it the Marathas.The charges are true which again brings us to the eternal conundrum of freedom of speech versus censorship One could say that the ideas expressed here are that of a character not the writer s but then Rohinton Mistry feels nothing but contempt for the Indian political class in general who can really blame him I heard that he is evenvituperative in A Fine Balance which deals with the emotionally searing issues of casteism the emergency years.I m definitely looking forward to the remaining two novels considering Mr Mistry is the only writer whose all three novels have been shortlisted for the Booker prize Read it if like Shelley you also believe that Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thoughts Ps Oh after pages pages of bleakness, there was a glimpse of humour a wonder wall I had read so many references to it but had no idea it was here fed up with ppl urinating defecating alongside his 300 feet long building outer wall, Gustad gets a pavement artist to paint holy figures of Gods shrines on it Soon it s a place of sanctity fragrance flowers, incense sticks all Who says religion doesn t do any good in India P Ps I m despairing of this review s length but I must add that I didn t like the novel s black magic track as it only reinforces India s exotic image As an ironic device though, it was very powerful It is Bombay in , the year India went to war over what was to become Bangladesh A hard working bank clerk, Gustad Noble is a devoted family man who gradually sees his modest life unravelling His young daughter falls ill his promising son defies his father s ambitions for him He is the one reasonable voice amidst the ongoing dramas of his neighbours One day, he receives a letter from an old friend, asking him to help in what at first seems like an heroic mission But he soon finds himself unwittingly drawn into a dangerous network of deception Compassionate, and rich in details of character and place, this unforgettable novel charts the journey of a moral heart in a turbulent world of change From the Trade Paperback edition I really enjoyed this book It is a touching story of an Indian family in the early seventies, a turbulent time in India s history Mistry managed to create a colourful and rich setting and his characters are well believable, imperfect and therefore very human I gave it four stars because it did not drag me into the story like his other novel A Fine Balance did I still felt I was kept at a comfortable distance where in AFB I, as a reader, felt I was being made a part of the misery and happines I really enjoyed this book It is a touching story of an Indian family in the early seventies, a turbulent time in India s history Mistry managed to create a colourful and rich setting and his characters are well believable, imperfect and therefore very human I gave it four stars because it did not drag me into the story like his other novel A Fine Balance did I still felt I was kept at a comfortable distance where in AFB I, as a reader, felt I was being made a part of the misery and happiness of the main characters Yet it is a remarkable debut novel he did write a collection of short stories before this, which I recommend too Read this novel first if you still can and know that his work gets even better than this Next stop Family Matters I have the name Rohinton Mistry etched on my brain for he is the author of my favourite book of all time A Fine Balance This is a story that is again set in Mumbai, India, and is focused on a small community and in particular Gustad, his wife and their three children It is brilliantly written in what I would call trademark Mistry language having now read a whole two of his books compelling and intricate with great character descriptions The reason I have given this book 3 stars and not I have the name Rohinton Mistry etched on my brain for he is the author of my favourite book of all time A Fine Balance This is a story that is again set in Mumbai, India, and is focused on a small community and in particular Gustad, his wife and their three children It is brilliantly written in what I would call trademark Mistry language having now read a whole two of his books compelling and intricate with great character descriptions The reason I have given this book 3 stars and not 5 as I did with AFB is the lack of event or happening I kept reading expecting something to really get the heart beating or tears flooding but instead the author takes us down a series of avenues which might end in delight or despair but instead does neither The whole story about the money being kept in their house for instance had great potential would they be robbed Might they spend it Might the bank find out but instead nothing I am still a Mistry fan no longer is the author flawless as I might previously have suggested I first read this book five years ago long before I ever readA Fine Balanceand had my heart formidably broken to pieces Today, just as all those years ago,Such A Long Journeyremains for me a profound sampler of the tragic despair that Mistry came to be known for over the course of his career, and what a haunting despair at that, touched by claws of injustice and vicissitude as palpable in his fiction as in life Set during Indira Gandhi s prime ministerial rule against the backdrop of I first read this book five years ago long before I ever readA Fine Balanceand had my heart formidably broken to pieces Today, just as all those years ago,Such A Long Journeyremains for me a profound sampler of the tragic despair that Mistry came to be known for over the course of his career, and what a haunting despair at that, touched by claws of injustice and vicissitude as palpable in his fiction as in life Set during Indira Gandhi s prime ministerial rule against the backdrop of the Indo Pakistani war and the liberation of Bangladesh this stunning debut novel draws the reader to eye level with Gustad Noble, a middle class Parsi man living in Bombay in the 1970s Through Gustad s tribulations, Mistry unspools a heart wrenching tale of family, friendships, betrayal, corruption, and in a broader sense, the human condition With its subtle craft and rich but unpretentious metaphors, this book holds together a profusion of stories in its many tightly woven subplots Indeed, Mistry inSuch A Long Journeymanifests the intermingling of the personal and political with a lucidity and impact rarely seen elsewhere At the crux of this book is the Khodadad Building, a small, walled, decaying Parsi enclave where the Nobles reside From the beginning, the building becomes not merely a site but also a significant character in its own right through which the story unfolds At various times, it serves as an eloquent stand in for the municipal and existential endangerment posed to Bombay and its culture in general as well as to the Parsi community in particular The black wall at the end of the compound, too, similarly embodies the ideas of peace, privacy and safety, all of which are imperiled by the many wars and other developments of the 1970s Mistry s indictment of corruption on various levels of the government under Indira Gandhi as well as that of American foreign policy during the Bangladesh liberation war figures prominently in this novel, seen as it is in the betrayal of Major Billimoria, the fate of Tehmul lungra and the general squalor that predominates in the neighbourhoods Gustad describes Mistry here takes the abstract idea of a corrupt power and gives it shape through experiences here that can best be described as fictional representations of real afflictions in the political fabric of the country As a work from the diaspora,Such A Long Journeyis written with a prominent sense of Indianness, skillfully foregrounding both the quirks and serious issues that come with it It is therefore unsurprising that this book was banned by Mumbai University after violent intimidation and protests led by the scion of an extremist, ethno nationalist party in the city The Shiv Sena s issue with the book is perhaps doubly so because while this book minces no words aboutanypolitical forces, it is also sonorous with characters belonging to India s minority communities, the very same that the ethno nationalists feel threatened by Hardly any characters in this book are Hindus, a condition that allows a nuanced look at the internal rhythms of life in minority communities, especially within Parsi families Moreover, through characters such as Mrs Kutpitia, the rivalry between Gustad and Mr Rabadi, and the hints of early romance between Darius and Jasmine many individual and communal aspects, from superstition to pride, are depicted Meanwhile, the relationship between Sohrab and Gustad tells a not uncommon story about parental aspirations and pressures Friendship, too, takes the center stage here, be it Dilnavaz and Mrs Kutpitia, or Gustad s friendships with the Major, Mr Dinshaw, Malcolm Saldahna, and Tehmul respectively I particularly found the latter most touching Tehmul s arc is a tragic example of the way society all sections of society treat those different from our own selves, and a fitting metaphor for the larger themes of the novel My second reading made me aware of how Gustad s friendship with Dinshaw with its occasional references to Laurie Coutinho and the domestic vulture , as well as family life and portions about the House of Cages, highlight the casual and pervasive misogyny that is seemingly offset by a powerful woman Prime Minister who is, if I may add, a veritable figure of corruption and evil My favourite section of this book, however, is to do with the symbolism around the street artist whom Gustad brings to paint over the Khodadad Building wall Through him, Mistry not only makes a point about secularism and civic values in India, but also emphasises our mistaken notion of permanence and the ephemerality of material comforts thereby perhaps also implying that the tragedy isn t here to stay, either Not such a bleak book, then, after all.While it may somewhat pale in comparison to its successor in Mistry s oeuvre,Such A Long Journeyis nonetheless a brilliant, unforgettable book, a tightly knit and heartbreakingly told testament to its author s literary prowess Update April 2016 I noticed, in connection with the banning of Naipaul s An Area of Darkness in India, that the University of Mumbai banned this book with alacrity upon the threat of violence from a rightwing political group looking for attention All over the world free speech is being eroded in universities, ironically from both the left side of the divide and the right It is something both sides apparently agree upon, that people should only be allowed to say what their side wants to hear Update April 2016 I noticed, in connection with the banning of Naipaul s An Area of Darkness in India, that the University of Mumbai banned this book with alacrity upon the threat of violence from a rightwing political group looking for attention All over the world free speech is being eroded in universities, ironically from both the left side of the divide and the right It is something both sides apparently agree upon, that people should only be allowed to say what their side wants to hear So in the end, what is the difference between a criminal group of thugs in India arguing for the banning of a book and those of quite a different political stance who recently fought to stop Germaine Greer, a noted public speaker and thinker for 50 years, from appearing on university soil You can find Mistry s own reaction to this here quote from it As for the grandson of the Shiv Sena leader, the young man who takes credit for the whole pathetic business, who admits to not having read the book, just the few lines that offend him and his bibliophobic brethren, he has now been inducted into the family enterprise of parochial politics, anointed leader of its newly minted youth wing What can what should one feel about him Pity, disappointment, compassion Twenty years old, in the final year of a B.A in history, at my own Alma Mater, the beneficiary of a good education, he is about to embark down the Sena s well trodden path, to appeal, like those before him, to all that is worst in human nature Does he have to No He is clearly equipped to choose for himself He could lead, instead of following, the old regime He could say something radical that burning and banning books will not feed one hungry soul, will not house one homeless person nor will it provide gainful employment to anyone unless one counts those hired to light bonfires , not in Mumbai, not in Maharashtra, not anywhere, not ever He can think independently, and he can choose And since he is drawn to books, he might want to read, carefully this time, from cover to cover, a couple that would help him make his choice Come to think of it, the Vice Chancellor, too, may find them beneficial First, Conrad s Heart of Darkness, in order to consider the options step back from the abyss, or go over the edge Next, the Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore s Gitanjali And I would urge particular attention to this verse Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high Where knowledge is free Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake I know quite a bit about India in the period in which this is set but only at a very micro, rural level This is an urban middle class story set against the backdrop of the period of war with Pakistan, a world I really only started discovering through Mistry s books For the colour of life in the city, the stench of it, its cheapness, its noise, its horrifying poverty strickenness, its cruelty, this book can be thoroughly recommended To watch the small attempts to rise above these circumstances, to escape to something better is distressingrest here Since I will have to critically analyse this book for a paper I m studying this semester, I ll leave the critical thinking part for later Instead, I d like to focus on how this book made me feel Mistry does this thing he makes sure you re on the verge of crying, and then he says something that almost magically dispels the sadness that would inevitably have resulted in tears But this book did make me cry in the end, which also means that I loved it Any book that can make me cry is a good bo Since I will have to critically analyse this book for a paper I m studying this semester, I ll leave the critical thinking part for later Instead, I d like to focus on how this book made me feel Mistry does this thing he makes sure you re on the verge of crying, and then he says something that almost magically dispels the sadness that would inevitably have resulted in tears But this book did make me cry in the end, which also means that I loved it Any book that can make me cry is a good book I always say this, but there really is something about Indian writing that tugs at my heart like no other writing can One of the reasons behind that is that no matter what part of India these writing talk of, no matter what part of its culture they display, all of it has this particular element that makes it all, in a way, almost the same This element is the saddening yet awe inspiring Indianess No matter the never ending diversity, in the end the Indianess of it all takes precedence over everything else No matter how different Indians are from each other, the Indianess that we share cannot be denied Also, I cannot wait to readby Mistry 3.5As usual, the theme and premise was good That s the thing about his books You get to deep dive into a Parsi day to day life.Loved The descriptions around the wall The wall artist.The characters Dr Paymaster, Peerbhoy Panwalla, Tehmul Langra, Dinshawji and Lorrie Coutino and the incidents around them.The ceremonies related to the tower of silence.Yet again, theme around Indira Gandhi and her motorcar wala son But somehow this lacked the punch and intensity. Rohinton Mistry s A Fine Balance is one of the most deeply affecting books I ve ever read It shook my conscience to its bone and obliterated any sense of national pride I might ve had Instead, it instilled in me a deep sense of guilt, shame, and disgust about the history of this allegedly great nation a nation where millions of people were and are systematically oppressed and humiliated and exploited to no end Hollinghurst mirrors this sentiment word to word in his novel Swimming Pool Libra Rohinton Mistry s A Fine Balance is one of the most deeply affecting books I ve ever read It shook my conscience to its bone and obliterated any sense of national pride I might ve had Instead, it instilled in me a deep sense of guilt, shame, and disgust about the history of this allegedly great nation a nation where millions of people were and are systematically oppressed and humiliated and exploited to no end Hollinghurst mirrors this sentiment word to word in his novel Swimming Pool Library about BritainThere are times when I can t think of my country without a kind of despairing shame Something literally inexpressible, so I won t bother to try and speechify about it Such a Long Journey pales in comparison with A Fine Balance and it doesn t cut as deep My constant mental comparisons with AFB probably precluded a decent, sane, unbiased reading of this novel It s most probably my fault and not the book s that I didn t enjoy it to the fullest for what it was.Long Journey is a simple, perfectly good book about a Parsi man in Bombay who s very nostalgic about the better days of his life a life that s taking a turn for the worse amidst a national turmoil, the constant threat of war and unrest within the family Much can be gleaned about the Parsi way of life from this story and I was disappointed to realize my absolute ignorance about this community I never knew that they practiced Zoroastrianism as I was of the idea that they were just another ethnic group Their rituals are fascinating, especially being made prey to vultures in the Tower of Silence post death Also, the Bombay in this novel is quite different from the Bombay we encounter in all the other famous novels especially Rushdie s, maybe because they only center around the poshy posh places Maybe it s because it s PARSI Bombay The book is very casually patriarchial and partly misogynistic it wouldn t survive moral scrutiny in the current era of sensitivity readers It is understandable as it s narrated in the perspective of a man deeply entrenched in those beliefs and it can be argued that it s not the author s viewpoint Still, it s quite shocking to find evidence that people were are so bigoted when you think you re living in a liberal world Mistry s novels also greatly succeed in conveying the patriarchial male psyche s objectification of the female body It borders on the perverted and it dutifully fosters rape culture The character of Dinshawji, in particular, is quite disturbing and his attitude toward women is utterly reprehensible It s surprising what people could get away with in the past Sexual harassment was so casually accepted and even gaily encouraged to an extent A contained, perfectly good novel that isn t overwhelming except in the depiction of the patriarchial typical Indian mindset A jolly good snapshot of the past that un creases your frown into a smile, but not the kind that makes you jump with joy Set in Bombay in 1971, as India prepares for a war with Pakistan over what becomes Bangladesh, it tells the story of the family of Gustad Noble Noble is a hard working bank clerk and devoted family man.The book touches on many themes, political corruption, long term friendships, loss of loved ones, alternative medicine, and the mentally ill It is a well woven story, but as a first novel, perhaps does not go deep enough into some themes, and includes a few too many.The characters are likeable, Set in Bombay in 1971, as India prepares for a war with Pakistan over what becomes Bangladesh, it tells the story of the family of Gustad Noble Noble is a hard working bank clerk and devoted family man.The book touches on many themes, political corruption, long term friendships, loss of loved ones, alternative medicine, and the mentally ill It is a well woven story, but as a first novel, perhaps does not go deep enough into some themes, and includes a few too many.The characters are likeable, the story unfolds well enough, but it perhaps didn t draw me in as much as I might have expected.Mistry s second and third novels receive high praise, and for that reason I opted to read this book first Hard to go back to earlier writing without a level of disappointment, so I look forward to those in due course.Three and a half stars, rounded up


About the Author: Rohinton Mistry

Rohinton Mistry is considered to be one of the foremost authors of Indian heritage writing in English Residing in Brampton, Ontario, Canada, Mistry belongs to the Parsi Zoroastrian religious minority.Mistry s first novel, Such a Long Journey 1991 , brought him national and international recognition Mistry s subsequent novels have achieved the same level of recognition as his first His second novel, A Fine Balance 1995 , concerns four people from Bombay who struggle with family and work against the backdrop of the political unrest in India during the mid 1970s The book won Canada s Giller Prize, the Commonwealth Writers Award, and the Los Angeles Times Book Award It was nominated for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and was a finalist for the Booker Prize Mistry won the prestigious Neustadt International Prize for Literature in 2012.Author photo courtesy of Faber and Faber website.Wikipedia article at THIS LINK.


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