"Family Matters" by Rohinton Mistry A review by Ruchi Mital
Like the 1990s Bombay it is set in, when you enter this novel, you enter a world. Rohinton Mistry's latest novel, Family Matters, works like a physics video trying to explain the scope of the universe. It takes us through nation, city, sect, and straight to the heart of one family, and from there follows its veins coursing with the same themes that run through all of us: regret, death, responsibility, religion, home; in short, family matters. We start with the story of Nariman Vakeel, a 79-year old Parsi man, who lives with his two adult stepchildren, Coomy and Jal. In his youth Nariman had a love, a woman named Lucy, but he succumbed to family pressures and did not marry her because she was not Parsi. Coomy and Jal are the children of his Parsi wife from a previous marriage, and Coomy especially blames Nariman for their mother's misery and death. After breaking his ankle, Coomy can no longer stand taking care of her stepfather, of changing his bedpan, of cleaning his dentures. She convinces her brother to go along with a plot to dump him on Roxana, their half-sister and Nariman's only biological child. Roxana lives in a tiny apartment with her husband Yezad and their two sons Jehangir and Murad; they are already having trouble making ends meet, but they of course take in Nariman. The story here is in the details, in the thread that weaves these people lives together, their memories, intentions, desires, and confusions. Behind them is Bombay, a city divided by religion, rife with fundamentalism, corruption, and the sounds, smells, directions of the lives lived there. We see Nariman slip further and further into his past, watch Jehangir compromise his honesty to make money for his family, and eventually see Yezad go from a skeptic with dreams of moving to the West to a Parsi believer to an over-the-top fundamentalist. At times some of the events are a bit melodramatic, and some of the character's feelings and emotions seems to be forced upon them by the narrator rather than unfolded. But the novel retains that ring of truth because there is never a judgment attached to the characters' actions. We struggle to feel that someone is good or bad but the story was always beyond that, and the desire to pin it down speaks to the level of engagement this story creates. We want to say that Yezad is wrong for imposing the same strict fundamentalism on his children that caused Nariman to live a life he suffered through, and had to regret. But its something we understand. It happens, in a family all of it happens, and here it is beautifully told. "
© Ruchi Mital\Tribes 2003