What the book is about:
This book, set in India, takes a hard look at caste systems, how they work, how they dehumanize in both directions, and how either finds in way in at the most desperate of times or leaves altogether. The book follows the lives of four individuals whose paths cross at a time when all four need each other to survive, and as they try to follow the rules of the caste system in which they find themselves. It’s a shocking look into the horrors of caste reality, and a heartening look at how some humans overcome even the most adverse of circumstances and live, while others can stare opportunity in the face and lose all hope.
What I liked:
This book is so well written that it grabs the reader and refuses to let go. From rooting for Dinah’s happiness and freedom to not understanding her relationship with Ishvar and Om initially, and Maneck’s abject refusal to follow caste rules, the book mostly showcases the underbelly of caste in a poignant and brilliant way.
What I didn’t like:
I found the first chapters to be a bit confusing as timelines and people shuffled around. It all got sorted out, though, but made for a few rough chapters for me.
Overall thoughts and opinions:
I’m writing a story that has some caste-system elements in it and this book was recommended to me to read in preparation for writing my own story. It opened my eyes in ways I hadn’t imagined, and while difficult to read at times (because of the emotions evoked, not the writing), it still pulled at me, compelling me to continue and read on.
I found myself constantly wishing for the best outcome in every circumstance, wanting everyone to come out on top, and I continually found myself disappointed. It seems I’m used to seeing the protagonists rise above their circumstances and overcome all odds, but that frankly isn’t reality. Sometimes life DOES win, sometimes the bad guy gets ahead, and the good guy dies.
Even so, I think this brutal look into reality is refreshing and shows a side of humanity that can be lost when the characters constantly come out on top. It gives me some real meat to chew on as I craft my own stories.
I give A Fine Balance five heartwrenching stars.