Cover image for Family matters
Title:
Family matters
Author:
Mistry, Rohinton, 1952-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Alfred A. Knopf, [2002]

©2002
Physical Description:
431 pages ; 24 cm
General Note:
"A Borzoi book"--T.p. verso.
Language:
English
Geographic Term:
ISBN:
9780375403736
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

Set in Bombay in the mid-1990s,Family Matterstells a story of familial love and obligation, of personal and political corruption, of the demands of tradition and the possibilities for compassion. Nariman Vakeel, the patriarch of a small discordant family, is beset by Parkinson's and haunted by memories of his past. He lives with his two middle-aged stepchildren, Coomy, bitter and domineering, and her brother, Jal, mild-mannered and acquiescent. But the burden of the illness worsens the already strained family relationships. Soon, their sweet-tempered half-sister, Roxana, is forced to assume sole responsibility for her bedridden father. And Roxana's husband, besieged by financial worries, devises a scheme of deception involving his eccentric employer at a sporting goods store, setting in motion a series of events that leads to the narrative's moving outcome.Family Mattershas all the richness, the gentle humour, and the narrative sweep that have earned Mistry the highest of accolades around the world.


Author Notes

Rohinton Mistry was born in Bombay in 1952 and immigrated to Canada in 1975. He began writing stories in 1983 while a student at the University of Toronto. His books recount everyday life in India. Titles include Tales From Firozsha Baag, a collection of short stories, and A Fine Balance, a novel.

Mistry's first novel, Such a Long Journey, received several awards, including the Governor General's Award and the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book. It was also shortlisted for the Booker Prize and for the Trillium Award.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Mistry's flawless style and absolute yet inconspicuous command of character, place, and story made prizewinners of his previous novels, including A Fine Balance (1996). He now presents a magnetic tale of family obligations that comes as close to perfect as a novel can get. The setting is the ever-hectic city of Bombay during a 1990s wave of violent religious extremism, and the focus is on an extended Parsi family suffering the long-term consequences of a Juliet and Romeo^-like tragedy. Septuagenarian widower Nariman survived the catastrophic love affair, but Parkinson's disease is now eroding his health and autonomy, forcing him to confront his guilt over capitulating to his family's vehement objections to the non-Parsi love of his life and entering into an unhappy arranged marriage with a Parsi widow with two children. Nariman and his wife had one daughter together, the sweet-natured Roxana, who lives joyfully in a tiny apartment on a tight budget with her two magnificent sons and loving husband, while regretful Nariman lives in an enormous but neglected flat with his deeply resentful stepdaughter and lazy and timid stepson. These two diametrically opposed households collide when Nariman becomes bed-ridden, an event that places incalculable emotional, physical, and financial strains on everyone, causing even the scrupulously honest to cheat, and exposing the hypocrisy of religious beliefs that cause strife instead of fostering tolerance and generosity. A discerning social observer and master dramatist, Mistry evokes laughter and tears as he spins the great wheel of human life and charts the soul's confusion and the body's decline, the endless cycle of repeated mistakes and failures of heart, and, yes, the radiant revelations of love. Donna Seaman


Publisher's Weekly Review

Warm, humane, tender and bittersweet are not the words one would expect to describe a novel that portrays a society where the government is corrupt, the standard of living is barely above poverty level and religious, ethnic and class divisions poison the community. Yet Mistrys compassionate eye and his ability to focus on the small decencies that maintain civilization, preserve the family unit and even lead to happiness attest to his masterly skill as a writer who makes sense of the world by using laughter, as one of his characters observes. Bombay in the mid-1990s, a once-elegant city in the process of deterioration, is mirrored in the physical situation of elderly retired professor Nariman Vakeel, whose body is succumbing to the progressive debilitation of Parkinsons disease. Narimans apartment, which he shares with his two resentful, middle-aged stepchildren, is also in terrible disrepair. But when an accident forces him to recuperate in the tortuously crowded apartment that barely accommodates his daughter Roxana, her husband and two young boys, family tensions are exacerbated and the limits of responsibility and obligation are explored with a full measure of anguish. In the ensuing situation, everyones behavior deteriorates, and the affecting secret of Narimans thwarted lifetime love affair provides a haunting leitmotif. Light moments of domestic interaction, a series of ridiculous comic situations, ironic juxtapositions and tenderly observed human eccentricities provide humorous relief, as the author of A Fine Balance again explores the tightrope act that constitutes life on this planet. Mistry is not just a fiction writer; hes a philosopher who finds meaning-$indeed, perhaps a divine plan"in small human interactions. This beautifully paced, elegantly expressed novel is notable for the breadth of its vision as well as its immensely appealing characters and enticing plot. 75,000 first printing; BOMC, Literary Guild and QPB alternates; 7-city author tour. (Oct. 1) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal Review

Yes, family does matter, but Nariman's is falling apart even as he himself crumbles from Parkinson's. The award-winning Mistry revisits Bombay in his latest work, which is slated for a 75,000-copy first printing. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

1 A SPLASH OF LIGHT from the late-afternoon sun lingered at the foot of Nariman's bed as he ended his nap and looked towards the clock. It was almost six. He glanced down where the warm patch had lured his toes. Knurled and twisted, rendered birdlike by age, they luxuriated in the sun's comfort. His eyes fell shut again. By and by, the scrap of sunshine drifted from his feet, and he felt a vague pang of abandonment. He looked at the clock again: gone past six now. With some difficulty he rose to prepare for his evening walk. In the bathroom, while he slapped cold water on his face and gargled, he heard his stepson and stepdaughter over the sound of the tap. "Please don't go, Pappa, we beseech you," said Jal through the door, then grimaced and adjusted his hearing aid, for the words had echoed deafeningly in his own ear. The device was an early model; a metal case the size of a matchbox was clipped to his shirt pocket and wired to the earpiece. It had been a reluctant acquisition four years ago, when Jal had turned forty-five, but he was not yet used to its vagaries. "There, that's better," he said to himself, before becoming loud again: "Now, Pappa, is it too much to ask? Please stay home, for your own good." "Why is this door shut that we have to shout?" said Coomy. "Open it, Jal." She was two years younger than her brother, her tone sharper than his, playing the scold to his peacemaker. Thin like him, but sturdier, she had taken after their mother, with few curves to soften the lines and angles. During her girlhood, relatives would scrutinize her and remark sadly that a father's love was sunshine and fresh water without which a daughter could not bloom; a stepfather, they said, was quite useless in this regard. Once, they were careless and spoke in her hearing. Their words had incandesced painfully in her mind, and she had fled to her room to weep for her dead father. Jal tried the bathroom door; it was locked. He scratched his thick wavy hair before knocking gently. The inquiry failed to elicit a response. Coomy took over. "How many times have I told you, Pappa? Don't lock the door! If you fall or faint inside, how will we get you out? Follow the rules!" Nariman rinsed the lather from his hands and reached for the towel. Coomy had missed her vocation, he felt. She should have been a headmistress, enacting rules for hapless schoolgirls, making them miserable. Instead, here she was, plaguing him with rules to govern every aspect of his shrunken life. Besides the prohibition against locked doors, he was required to announce his intention to use the wc. In the morning he was not to get out of bed till she came to get him. A bath was possible only twice a week when she undertook its choreography, with Jal enlisted as stage manager to stand by and ensure his safety. There were more rules regarding his meals, his clothes, his dentures, his use of the radiogram, and in charitable moments Nariman accepted what they never tired of repeating: that it was all for his own good. He dried his face while she continued to rattle the knob. "Pappa! Are you okay? I'm going to call a locksmith and have all the locks removed, I'm warning you!" His trembling hands took a few moments to slide the towel back on the rod. He opened the door. "Hello, waiting for me?" "You'll drive me crazy," said Coomy. "My heart is going dhuk-dhuk, wondering if you collapsed or something." "Never mind, Pappa is fine," said Jal soothingly. "And that's the main thing." Smiling, Nariman stepped out of the bathroom and hitched up his trousers. The belt took longer; shaking fingers kept missing the buckle pin. He followed the gentle slant of sunlight from the bed to the window, delighting in its galaxies of dust, the dancing motes locked in their inscrutable orbits. Traffic noise had begun its evening assault on the neighbourhood. He wondered why it no longer offended him. "Stop dreaming, Pappa," said Coomy. "Please pay attention to what we say." Nariman thought he smelled the benign fragrance of earth after rain; he could almost taste it on his tongue. He looked outside. Yes, water was dripping to the pavement. In a straight drip. Not rain, then, but the neighbour's window boxes. "Even with my healthy legs, Pappa, walking is a hazard," said Jal, continuing the daily fuss over his stepfather's outing. "And lawlessness is the one certainty in the streets of Bombay. Easier to find a gold nugget on the footpath than a tola of courtesy. How can you take any pleasure in a walk?" Socks. Nariman decided he needed socks, and went to the dresser. Looking for a pair in the shallow drawer, he spoke into it, "What you say is true, Jal. But the sources of pleasure are many. Ditches, potholes, traffic cannot extinguish all the joys of life." His hand with its birdwing tremble continued to search. Then he gave up and stuffed bare feet into shoes. "Shoes without socks? Like a Pathan?" said Coomy. "And see how your hands are shaking? You can't even tie the laces." "Yes, you could help me." "Happily--if you were going somewhere important like the doctor, or fire-temple for Mamma's prayers. But I won't encourage foolishness. How many people with Parkinson's do what you do?" "I'm not going trekking in Nepal. A little stroll down the lane, that's all." Relenting, Coomy knelt at her stepfather's feet and tied his laces as she did every evening. "First week of August, monsoon in fury, and you want a little stroll." He went to the window and pointed at the sky. "Look, the rain has stopped." "A stubborn child, that's what you are," she complained. "Should be punished like a child. No dinner for disobedience, hanh?" With her cooking that would be a prize, not a punishment, he thought. "Did you hear him, Jal? The older he gets, the more insulting he is!" Nariman realized he'd said it aloud. "I must confess, Jal, your sister frightens me. She can even hear my thoughts." Jal could hear only a garble of noise, confounded by the earpiece that augmented Coomy's strong voice while neglecting his stepfather's murmurings. Readjusting the volume control, he lifted his right index finger like an umpire giving a batsman out, and returned to the last topic his ears had picked up. "I agree with you, Pappa, the sources of pleasure are many. Our minds contain worlds enough to amuse us for an eternity. Plus you have your books and record player and radio. Why leave the flat at all? It's like heaven in here. This building isn't called Chateau Felicity for nothing. I would lock out the hell of the outside world and spend all my days indoors." "You couldn't," said Nariman. "Hell has ways of permeating heaven's membrane." He began softly, " 'Heaven, I'm in heaven,' " which irritated Coomy even more, and he stopped humming. "Just think back to the Babri Mosque riots." "You're right," conceded Jal. "Sometimes hell does seep through." "You're agreeing with his silly example?" said Coomy indignantly. "The riots were in the streets, not indoors." "I think Pappa is referring to the old Parsi couple who died in their bedroom," said Jal. "You remember that, don't you, Coomy?" said Nariman. "The goondas who assumed Muslims were hiding in Dalal Estate and set fire to it?" "Yes, yes, my memory is better than yours. And that was a coincidence--pure bad luck. How often does a mosque in Ayodhya turn people into savages in Bombay? Once in a blue moon." "True," said Nariman. "The odds are in our favour." He resisted the urge to hum "Blue Moon." "Just last week in Firozsha Baag an old lady was beaten and robbed," said Jal. "Inside her own flat. Poor thing is barely clinging to life at Parsi General." "Which side are you on?" asked Coomy, exasperated. "Are you arguing Pappa should go for a walk? Are you saying the world has not become a dangerous place?" "Oh, it has," Nariman answered for Jal. "Especially indoors." She clenched her fists and stormed out. He blew on his glasses and polished them slowly with a handkerchief. His fading eyesight, tiresome dentures, trembling limbs, stooped posture, and shuffling gait were almost ready for their vesperal routine. .  .  . With his umbrella, which he used as walking stick, Nariman Vakeel emerged from Chateau Felicity. The bustling life was like air for starving lungs, after the stale emptiness of the flat. He went to the lane where the vegetable vendors congregated. Their baskets and boxes, overflowing with greens and legumes and fruits and tubers, transformed the corner into a garden. French beans, sweet potatoes, coriander, green chilies, cabbages, cauliflowers bloomed under the street lights, hallowing the dusk with their colour and fragrance. From time to time, he bent down to touch. Voluptuous onions and glistening tomatoes enticed his fingers; the purple brinjals and earthy carrots were irresistible. The subjivalas knew he wasn't going to buy anything, but they did not mind, and he liked to think they understood why he came. In the flower stall two men sat like musicians, weaving strands of marigold, garlands of jasmine and lily and rose, their fingers picking, plucking, knotting, playing a floral melody. Nariman imagined the progress of the works they performed: to supplicate deities in temples, honour the photo-frames of someone's ancestors, adorn the hair of wives and mothers and daughters. The bhel-puri stall was a sculptured landscape with its golden pyramid of sev, the little snow mountains of mumra, hillocks of puris, and, in among their valleys, in aluminium containers, pools of green and brown and red chutneys. A man selling bananas strolled up and down the street. The bunches were stacked high and heavy upon his outstretched arm: a balancing and strong-man act rolled into one. It was all magical as a circus, felt Nariman, and reassuring, like a magic show. On the eve of his seventy-ninth birthday, he came home with abrasions on his elbow and forearm, and a limp. He had fallen while crossing the lane outside Chateau Felicity. Coomy opened the door and screamed, "My God! Come quick, Jal! Pappa is bleeding!" "Where?" asked Nariman, surprised. The elbow scrape had left a small smear on his shirt. "This? You call this bleeding?" He shook his head with a slight chuckle. "How can you laugh, Pappa?" said Jal, full of reproach. "We are dying of anxiety over your injuries." "Don't exaggerate. I tripped on something and twisted my foot a little, that's all." Coomy soaked a ball of cotton wool in Dettol to wipe the scrapes clean, and the arm, smarting under the antiseptic, pulled back. She flinched in empathy, blowing o