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Saturday, June 11, 2011

"A Fine Balance"

"My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus' blood and righteousness..."

Reading "A Fine Balance" by Rohinton Mistry caused me to reflect on the nature of hope. His novel is set in India in 1975. Four people, from three widely disparate backgrounds, are brought intimately together for about a year under trying circumstances. They start by distrusting one another, and end up caring for one another. Several smaller characters feature in the story, as well (one reviewer described Mistry's work as being 'Dickensian' in scope). Mistry wrote believable, likable characters who have continued to live in my memory after closing the book. I am haunted by their troubles.

As the book goes along we hear of the unspeakably inhumane and cruel treatment that these four characters have suffered, and of the similar treatment the lesser characters have suffered. Misery abounds in the novel. Injustice is everywhere. The whole political system is rotten and corrupt through and through. Even those people who desire to be honorable and upright are forced, through their fear of their superiors, to be unkind to those under them. Anyone lacking authority or raw power has no reliable recourse to redress their grievances. Life is perilous. One's hold on the good things of life is tenuous.

One of the lesser characters, who appears only a handful of times in the book, is the only one to use the phrase 'a fine balance.' He speaks of the misery that lies on all sides, that afflicts every person he knows of or sees. He says the only possible response is to strive for a fine balance, between misery and hope. But the hope he offers is baseless. Given the almost constantly cruel way people treat one another, and the absence of power to achieve what one hopes for, there is no basis for hope.

And what is the object of hope? A crowded and uncomfortable residence instead of a crowded and uncomfortable pavement. A hope that someday one might encounter a truly kind person. A hope that Lady Justice will blind her eyes to the bribes being offered her on all sides. At best, a hope that one might not lose what one has, or that one might gain slightly better circumstances.

Contrasted with the eschatological hope of a Christian, based upon the finished work of Christ, I found the hope urged on the characters in the book woefully inadequate, without a foundation, and directed towards a trifling and temporary benefit. In the recent words of a friend, reading the book caused me to 'cry out to God for the human condition.'

On a side note, I must lament the fact that so many of the newer books (let's say 20 years or younger) which I read include so much gratuitous, sexually explicit descriptions, either of acts or of parts. Even the more literary works such as this one include them. I find such books marred by such descriptions.

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