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Family Matters

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Rohinton Mistry’s enthralling novel is at once a domestic drama and an intently observed portrait of present-day Bombay in all its vitality and corruption. At the age of seventy-nine, Nariman Vakeel, already suffering from Parkinson’s disease, breaks an ankle and finds himself wholly dependent on his family. His step-children, Coomy and Jal, have a spacious apartment (in the inaptly named Chateau Felicity), but are too squeamish and resentful to tend to his physical needs.

Nariman must now turn to his younger daughter, Roxana, her husband, Yezad, and their two sons, who share a small, crowded home. Their decision will test not only their material resources but, in surprising ways, all their tolerance, compassion, integrity, and faith. Sweeping and intimate, tragic and mirthful, Family Matters is a work of enormous emotional power.

434 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2002

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About the author

Rohinton Mistry

34 books3,105 followers
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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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,172 reviews
Profile Image for Seemita.
180 reviews1,615 followers
November 5, 2015
The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of.
Flipping through the pages, my heart leapt many times; those waves bearing the ring of countenance were from still stream but the ones with ripples of accusation roared thunder. Accusation? Accusation hurled towards whom? The fictional characters delicately brought to life by the stinging brush of the author or the guilty, manipulative, egocentric, conceited character of mine? Did my fingers pause typing these words defining myself? They did. And it also confirmed my worst fears: I am no angel and the pristine white enveloping me is a well-fabricated dwelling that I carry with temporary aplomb, aware somewhere deep inside that some of its bricks are turning cancerous by my vices.

Why, else, should I feel tormented at the sight of a 78-year old, Parkinson’s afflicted Nariman Vakeel, whose profound literary mind is reduced to a negligible fraction, not by the disease and a broken leg but by the invalidating abandonment of Coomy and Jal, his step-children? Why, else, should I feel torn by the disintegrating domestic fabric of his other daughter, Roxana whose tireless strides of nursing her fragile father come at the cost of her husband, Yezad’s never-seen-before condescension? Why, else, should I feel numbed at the virtues of a nine-year old Jehangir who knows to read the silent whimpers of his grandpa with sensitivity far greater than his parents'? Why else, should I feel jealous of the wasted lottery seller, Villie, who carries behind her shabby attire and even shabbier house, a heart of gold that gladly spills over to brighten her neigbours’ gloomy lives? Why, else, should I envy Husain, the looted peon, who possesses a spirit so much greater than the loss he suffered at the hands of religious fanatics that his volatility alone is his purifying fragrance? Why, else, should I feel staggered at the pouring of Mr.Kapur, whose benevolence weds passion in such fierce ceremony that his employees, Yezad and Husain get absolved of all their sorrows in its pious fire? Why, else, should I feel frozen to witness the eternal nerve of meritoriousness that holds its own in Jal, despite three dominating decades of Coomy's heedlessness? Why, else, should I stand dwarfed by Nariman who bears the burning thorns on his soul, adamantly barricading their venomous pricks from seeping into his heart and its inhabitants?

When the flute of life suddenly starts belting cantankerous sounds, it is easier to blame the flute maker; the chinks in our playing armour are conveniently swept beneath the carpet. That the sea of life will keep us afloat for a while and then swallow us without exception is a reality that eludes us when we are on shore. It is only the compassionate, who can not only empathize with the unruliness of the sea from afar but also send a boat of good words and deeds to ease the ride for those who are sea-bound next.
A letter is like a perfume. You don’t apply a whole bottle. Just one dab will fill your senses. Words are the same – a few are sufficient.
All days would remain the same if not for an act of kindness or a sliver of smile. Mistry knew it better than many of us. Hence, he did not leave a single chapter in this magnificent book where the beauty of innocence did not bathe us anew or the splendor of solidarity did not shake our shackles. His observations kissed the earthy tones of daily life and enlivened their cells to shine a little. He mixed the odours of past and present and softly pressed the nozzle to fill the future room with a foreign aroma that became our own on touching our skins. He maneuvered with utmost care, almost gracefully imitating Nariman’s movements, not ruffling our senses acutely but with a gentle thrust, like shaking a medicine bottle to get the mix right and placed a few shards of mirror on our palms: they did not cut, they did not intimidate, they simply showed our reflection.
Amazing, how a photo shows you things that your eyes forgot to see.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews609 followers
June 11, 2019
Update: $2.99 kindle special today!!! It’s fabulous! I still haven’t read “A Fine Balance” yet - but own it. Everyone says that Books fantastic as well —
Yet I find it hard to believe that the author could write another book any better than this one. Perhaps! 😊
A $2.99 special for this family epic novel is a fantastic price!!!!

UPDATE....Nov. 17th ...Completed Book....Completed Review (STAGE 2)

This is my first book by Robinton Mistry. ( a dangerous novel to begin at 1am). Thankfully, the prior five hours sleep sustained me for another 5 hours. At which point,
I had to drift off again for a little more morning sleep.
Note: Today is Friday, Nov. 6th. (Hmmm, our daughter's 30th birthday)...
"FAMILY MATTERS". .....( see, I couldn't resist 'not' thinking of 'family')

I was inspired to read this from having read *Seemita's* review ***3*** times.
Thank You, Seemita!

Note: I bought a physical book ( like New), for a penny, plus shipping for a total of $4.00. Crazy- ridiculously - beautiful - this book is...( whom I'll share with, my aunt,
and my neighbor Ardis). A few of my personal book lovers don't e-read, so it's important for me to give or share physical books. This book which traveled far to reach me -will land in the hands of others who will appreciate it.

I'll be writing this review in stages...( I'm obviously not finished with the book yet)...

I've read 113 pages so far ....
At this point it's Nariman Vakeel whom my heart breaks most. Having Parkinson's disease is no picnic, ... but then add the need for a hearing aid, bifocals, and dentures.
He has osteoporosis, and a broken leg. Medications, (sleeping pills and anti-diarrhea, etc.), are needed (one must remember the schedule). Bathing, clean clothes, simple tasks become difficult. Depression can be......'depressing'. The challenge of living with dignity with a failing physical body...could seem hopeless.
Enter the 'mind'....
What haunts Nariman, besides the fact that his independent life has been stripped away --is his memories for the woman he loved --forbidden to marry --
torments him again and again
I'll Be Back
.....5 stars so far....(if it goes down by the end of the book - I'll change the stars then)

Nariman is still the central character in my mind. ( 79 year old retired professor) ...'suffering'! The deeper I think about Nariman, the more it's clear he is suffering from all the most cherish things in life: love, health, happiness, and freedom.

Two days ago I was speaking to my close friend (76 year old retired professor), whose mother celebrated her 100th birthday just a month ago. They had a 3 day - huge family celebration for her. She is in excellent health --and looks amazing!
My 76 year old retired professor friend ( who passed on his thoughts to me about 'how to read the book "Ulysses", by James Joyce), is also in great health, happy, loved, and thriving in all areas of his life. Married 45 years..travels.. no depression..loves to dance ( has a dance studio in their home), ...and very the opposite from Nariman.
So?? maybe there is hope? Yet..with the fragility that life is...we never know what's around the corner. Some days in our own outlook on life ... it can 'stink', with feelings like we're sloshing through the mud -- other days are smooth rolling and good enough -- and at rare times we feel exuberant.

Yet, another big difference between my retired professor's friends life ( and most of our lives), than with Narimam, was 'freedom-of-choice'.
By following the rules, beliefs, traditions, customs, of the Parsee ( Zoroastrian), religion - Nariman wasn't allowed to marry Lucy because she wasn't of the same faith.
I looked up more information about Zoroastrianism...( an ancient religious fading faith). ...which was important in this novel, because we got to see the bigger picture of problems that occur- long lasting - people scared from not being allowed intermarriage. It's never just one person who suffers when 'rights' are taken away. A fricken train load of people also suffer.

Nariman 's stepchildren carried resentment toward him. Coomy was bitter and domineering. Jal was more mild mannered and acquiescent. When they no longer wanted to take care of him - mostly tired of taking cared of his bodily functions..
after he broke his leg... They pass Nariman off to his biological daughter Roxana, her husband Yezad, and their two boys Jehanjir, and Murad. ( originally only for three weeks)....but with squabbling- fretting- arguing- ( feeling guilty), they begged not to take him back.
Smashed together like sardines in a small apartment flat, Roxana was a saint in taking care of her father - but she and Yezad were starting to fight over finances. Roxana and Yezad are also fighting with Coomy and Jal. The young children were having struggles adjusting as well.
Downstairs was Yezad's boss from The Bombay Sporting Goods Emporium, (Mr. Vikram Kapur), and a violinist from The Bombay Symphony, (Daisy). Daisy visited Nariman to play her violin to add comfort.

Each character had different personal concerns and challenges. I found I really couldn't judge any of them harshly -- but there were times I wished a character made a different choice than they did. For example Yezad started gambling illegally because he was having a hard time making ends with the added financial stress ( medical costs, etc.), from having Nariman live with them).

The setting in Bombay is integral to the book - the customs, languages, politics, religions, ( constant conflicts between Hindus and Muslims), and the overall spirit.

Reading "Family Matters" was sometimes sad it hurt, other times, so dramatic--I
I laughed silly:
"What happened here?", asked Yezad. Fight?
"Merman Irani explained that a scuffle had broken out with a customer. Saalo maaderchod came in like a king, sat down, and ordered tea with bun-muskaa, extra butter and all. With loud busy teeth, batchar-batcher, the bastard ate everything, happy as a goat in a garbage dump, and gurgled down his tea. When he got the bill he said, Sorry, no money. My waiter thought he was joking. But the bhonsrino kept
refusing to pay."
"That was when the waiter pushed him and the fight began. Eventually, three waiters held the man down while Merwan himself went through the man's pockets."
"But I found nothing except a snot-filled hankerchief. Absolute karko, not one paisa. He said he had no money, but he was hungry--just imagine the maaderchod's courage."
"At least he was honest, said Vilas."

A masterpiece.... in the city of Bombay capturing the essence of India....*Timeless*-Terrific! This was written in 2002 - 13 years ago... ( feels like it was written today).
I recently read a debut novel, "In Another Life", by Julie Christine Johnson,.....which I feel will prove to be 'Timeless'!! These at my favorite types of books.. books that
are ageless.

I highly recommend FAMILY MATTERS ....with its universal themes....love & family,
illness, life transitions, sibling rivalry, religion, financial stress, poverty, politics, culture, betrayal, loss, death, friendships, strengths, failings, regret, secrets, and our ordinary lives which are extraordinary in themselves.

This novel was like a friend!

Thank you to Seemita ...( my friend and inspiration in reading this)!
Profile Image for Debbie W..
762 reviews570 followers
July 15, 2022
Another richly derived character-driven novel by Rohinton Mistry!

1. Interactions between family members and acquaintances, sometimes amusing, sometimes confusing, always emotional, are told from various POV, young and old, male and female. I was drawn to ALL the characters, but especially to Nariman Vakeel and Vikram Kapur;
2. some LOL moments were nicely interspersed with the tragic moments; and,
3. I learned and/or was reminded a lot about India and its people in this story, such as:
(a) the insidious role of the Shiv Sena political party;
(b) the various reasons for religious tensions that sometimes led to the barbaric lengths people would go to "discourage" religious mingling;
(c) the rampant nationwide corruption, even in grade school;
(d) the Sanjay sterilization, a dark history in India; and,
(e) water rationing when water is only available for a small time each day.

1. Why would someone be bedridden with a broken ankle in the 1990s with a cast encasing the entire leg and foot? This would have been more probable if the tibia or femur was broken; and,
2. a reader familiar with Indian vocabulary would definitely appreciate reading this book, but I had to continually Google words that were out of context. A glossary would have been most helpful!

Overall Thoughts:
Not as powerful as Mistry's A Fine Balance, but this story showed how simple actions and gestures can lead to strife and misery. Mistry reminds us to "take pleasure in beautiful things - defeat the sadness and sorrow of life". For me, the story doesn't end abruptly - it shows that life simply goes on.
Profile Image for Praj.
314 reviews812 followers
May 19, 2011
As Nariman counts his last breaths amid the serene violin rendition of Brahms Lullaby, played by Daisy, my mind races through a gloomy apartment where the stale odor of eau de cologne amalgamates in the air of misery thriving among the bustling of outside traffic and noisy vendors trying to earn their daily wage unaware of Nariman’s existence. The acridity of my parched throat makes me think about my death. Will I die as a happy soul or will death be a gift that I would crave in the course of vulnerable seclusion? This is how Mistry’s words affect me, as I breathe and feel every emotion that flows through the ink. It is not because of my familiarity with the physical surroundings or the Parsi community, but the fact that Mistry writes a simple story of nameless ordinary faces with astonishing lives.

Old age and Parkinson’s disease has not only bed-ridden Nariman but made him a burden on his financially challenged children. Coomy and Jal, his step-children, both heading their prime and plagued by their own ailments coax Nariman’s biological daughter Roxanna into providing healthcare to her ailing father. A middle-class housewife with two young kids and a budgeted monthly survival faces a monstrous task by burning the candle at both ends. The woes of middle-classes ripened by bigotry and communalism are highlighted with sheer accuracy throughout the manuscript. The preposterous stubbornness of arranged marriages, the segregation of religious identities, stigmatism of step-parental aspects and the eternal financial instabilities mesh into a burdensome desperation of graphic cunningness. In Asian cultures, looking after elderly parents is viewed not only dutiful but the most obedient thing to do. The concept of old-aged homes is highly condemned in the Indian society (also, many other Asian cultures). Old age can be cruel and if plagued by incurable diseases it becomes a metal cage. A man who once was free to walk in the by lanes of his vicinity and enjoy a wonderful German orchestra at the nearby concert hall; Nariman was reduced to a mere caged mortal who longed for freedom to breathe fresh air, feel the splatter of rainwater as he walked through the puddles and for once make his own choices without being reprimanded for his doings. I empathize more towards Nariman than any other character in the book. Nariman could never marry his true love Lucy, for she was a Catholic, he could not bring his step-daughter (Coomy) to accept him as her father and now he was the sole reason for the rifts between his children. I wonder if my grandparents could have had found happiness if they were not arranged to be married? What would the circumstances be if my father was not financially well enough to take care of my grandfather during his last days surviving cancer? Would we have been deprived of basic amenities like butter or hot water and frantically hoped to find additional money in the budgeted envelopes of monthly payments? In a society where corruption is spelled in gold letters, and a man’s potency is derived from his monetary success, money matters; come what may.

Each sketched characters defines the ebb and flow of life and its greatness that we as children dream to achieve. Right from Nariman to Roxanna and even Yehzad (Roxanna’s husband) who once nurtured the dream of Canadian immigration, somehow end up in a vortex of familial or financial obligations of a capricious life. Mistry does not adhere either to pompous melancholic facades or epical anecdotes. He throws out the phrase of ordinary people with ordinary lives. For if, lives were ordinary, nostalgia would not be such a pain in the arse and worries would not construct topsy-turvy pathways.
Profile Image for Cherisa B.
521 reviews42 followers
March 18, 2023
I love the double meaning of the title where Matters can be both noun or verb. It presages the story within that can be both the goings on of a single family or the human family and what matters in our common human condition. Mistry is wonderfully deft, giving us the story of a family in Bombay, and yet shining a light on the strengths and foibles, worries and struggles, work and loves of people everywhere.

There are some really beautiful parts, the younger son Jehangir’s perceptions and deep love and concern for each member of his family, the insights of the father’s friend who writes letters for illiterate workers to their families back in their home villages, the mother’s devotion, the violinist. The list goes on.

The need for money, the agony of blighted love, choosing (or not) to hold grudges, being selfish over forgiveness and kindness, growing old and infirm, trying to hold to ideals and principles, what we owe one another—these and more are looked at with deep feeling in beautiful language.

A solid four and a half stars.

(And a chance to learn about the Parsi community in India.)
Profile Image for Paul Weiss.
1,252 reviews236 followers
January 10, 2023
“He’s gone over the edge, … deep into the abyss of religion.”

It occurred to me as I was looking over the opinions of a few other people who had enjoyed FAMILY MATTERS, that a good characterization of Mistry’s delicious prose might be “neo-Dickensian”. The plot, such as it is, is absurdly simple and the movement in that plot, slow but steady and compelling, is all driven by the extraordinary depths, the motivations and the personalities that he has created in his dramatis personae. Even those characters that might be considered as little more than walk-on cameos are embellished, described and brought to life to an amazing degree.

As a young man in Bombay, Nariman Vakeel was forced by his devoutly fundamentalist Parsi parents to give up the love of his life and to enter into an unhappy, arranged marriage with a widow inside his faith, already the mother of a young son and daughter. That part of the story is revealed by flashback dreams of a now aged Vakeel, painfully bedbound as the result of a broken bone and advancing Parkinson’s. The forward-moving portion of the story simply tells of the ever escalating conflict between Vakeel’s daughter’s family and his two spiteful step-children as they struggle with the care of their aging and deteriorating parent. Family, poverty, east Indian culture and society, life in the enormous metropolis of Mumbai, and the unreasoning demands of fundamentalist Zoroastrianism are the themes that dominate this phenomenal novel.

I owned FAMILY MATTERS for quite some time before I decided to pick it up and read it. I don’t mind admitting that I was nervous it wouldn’t come up the standard that Mistry had set for himself in A FINE BALANCE, one of the finest novels that I’ve had the privilege to read in my entire lifetime. I shouldn’t have worried. The words that readers will choose to describe FAMILY MATTERS are legion – lush, mellifluous, warm, funny, evocative, compelling, poignant, sad, heartwarming, frightening, provocative, entertaining, thoughtful, bleak, raw, epic, gripping, moving, convincing – well, I think you get the idea!

FAMILY MATTERS makes it onto my “highly recommended” list and then some. Having read two of this fine Canadian author’s three novels, I’ll now be hunting down the third, SUCH A LONG JOURNEY.

Paul Weiss
Profile Image for Sharon.
248 reviews103 followers
April 3, 2017
Well, I read this the whole way through and Steve Urkel didn't appear once, folks.

This confirms my suspicion that Rohinton Mistry is one of the finest writers of our time. While I still preferred A Fine Balance of the two stories I've read by him (it was grander in scale), the more intimate Family Matters is still 100 percent 5-star fare with rich, evocative, Dickensian characters, set against the sprawling, corrupt, bustling backdrop of Bombay-soon-to-be-Mumbai, India.

When the 79-year-old patriarch of a Parsi family Nariman--recently diagnosed with Parkinson's disease--breaks his ankle and becomes bedridden, his stepson Jal and stepdaughter Coomy become overwhelmed caring for him, and enlist the help of their half-sister, Roxana. (And by "enlist," I mean show up unannounced at her two-room cramped flat--which she shares with her husband Yezad and two small children, Jehangir and Murad--and unceremoniously dump Nariman off.)

Despite the close quarters, Roxana does her best to make this new living situation work, mostly because of her absolute, unconditional love for her father, and the strong bond the family shares. Jehangir and Murad see the new living arrangement as a huge adventure, fighting over whose turn it is to sleep on the balcony (there is no room in the flat), and airplane-feeding their cherished grandfather his meals.

All bonds are tested, however; the book examines what happens when the family--repeatedly--is taken to its limit. The point of view is third-person omniscient, with special care given to Jehangir, who is the youngest and most impressionable when Nariman moves in. (It's only fitting that he delivers the Epilogue in the first person.) Corruption, jealousy, regret, and resentment all take turns rearing their heads; I found myself wondering again and again if the story would have a happy ending. I don't think it's a spoiler to say the author delivers both happy and sad, as he is adept at delivering throughout.

Like with A Fine Balance, I was in complete awe at how deftly Mistry wrote realistic yet poetic dialogue, and weaved the struggles and problems of India at large into a single cast of memorable, yet "ordinary" characters. Mistry demonstrates better than any writer that every individual has an amazing story to tell.

Profile Image for Bharath.
643 reviews475 followers
February 10, 2019
This is my second straight read of Rohinton Mistry after “Such a long journey”. The strength of his books is very clearly in the colourful build-up of the characters. They are so real that you start reading along, thinking how easily you could be in this situation yourself.

The story of Yezad, his wife Roxanna, their children, dependent father in law Nariman Vakeel, Nariman's step children Coomie and Jal. The book toggles between Nariman's life - the joys and pains, as also his having to marry someone other than the love of his life. There is a very tragic incident involving both his wife and love which is revealed much later in the book. At the present time, Nariman breaks his leg and ends up being bed ridden for a period. His step children Coomie and Jal struggle to take care of him, and he moves temporarily to his daughter Roxanna and family’s place.

As part of a lower middle class family, Yezad and Roxanna struggle to make ends meet, and with this the care required for Nariman falls on them.There are very touching incidents revealing what a very hard situation can do to good people. While Yezad toys with ways to somehow make some more money, the children feel obligated to chip in as well. As in “Such a long journey”, there are random musings by the characters in the story about Mumbai, its problems, the politics and everything else.

After periods of struggle, the characters settle to a kind of troubled peace where though financial worries subside to some extent, real peace of mind is still elusive.

Do not expect grand plots or twists. Instead though you will find real people and live their joy and sorrow, as you read. And for that - the book is certainly recommended.
Profile Image for Sue.
1,272 reviews548 followers
August 18, 2012
"Curious, he thought, how, if you knew a person long enough, he could elicit every kind of emotion from you, every possible reaction, envy, admiration, pity, irritation, fury, fondness, jealousy, love, disgust. But in the end all human beings became candidates for compassion, all of us, without exception...and if we could recognize this from the
beginning, what a saving in pain and grief and misery..."

This thought from Yezad (ch 17) sums up his moment of insight in this teeming story of generational family "matters", complicated by inter-religious bickering, unfaithfulness of various kinds, jealousies, rivalries and surrounded by the massively overwhelming city of Bombay, being reborn (but not really changed) as Mumbai.

Mistry is a master of the detail. In this city of millions, he finds the details to make a short walk memorable, the different sects and types to populate the streets, all for background to the main story of the Vakeels and Contractors and Chenoys. There are moments of beautiful emotion balanced against extreme thoughtlessness bordering on hate, described so well I felt I could see the faces, hear the words.

There is so much here; it is Dickensian in scope and has many of the same concerns: poverty, illness, inequality of opportunity, politics and government all as malevolent influences on daily life. But this is modern day not 19th century. This is a family struggling to be a modern family in the late 20th century but cursed by family hatreds and misunderstandings. Such is life anywhere and everywhere perhaps.

Highly recommended 4^
Profile Image for Trudie.
544 reviews585 followers
October 24, 2017
I have been mulling over my review for this book all day. I ended up really unsure of my feelings about it. I suppose up until the events of the last third I was happy to give this one a ringing endorsement.

The titular family matters under discussion are principally the care of the elderly Nariman, afflicted with Parkinsons and a broken ankle he is unceremoniously deposited with his daughters family, the care of whom places enormous strain on an already stretched family budget. This premise allows Mistry to explore many social problems in the Bombay of this novel - poverty, care of the elderly, religious intolerance, corruption, gambling, the caste system.

I immediately enjoyed the slight culture shock of being plunged into this Parsi Zoroastrian family and its bitter-sweet domestic dramas. It is written both tenderly and also unflinchingly - we are not spared any of the indignities of old age that Nariman must face. There are several uncomfortable scenes involving bedpans and general bodily function that are going to be hard to forget. However, at its best this book conjures up a Bombay full of contradictions and interesting characters. I admired how Mistry made me feel like you could come to love this city and despise it at the same time.

There are fantastic characters in this book, often the minor ones were the most memorable - the scribe who reads and writes letters for illiterate workers, the enthusiastic handyman who vastly overestimates his abilities.

In the end I was let down a little by the last quarter of this book. Two events occurred that more or less knocked me out of my reading orbit and I feel like the author took a slightly different direction at this point than I had wanted to go. Its not that I expected a particularly happy conclusion but the almost comedic beginning didn't match the rather gloomy religiosity of the ending.

Family Matters is a beautifully written account of both life in Bombay and the Parsi Zorastican culture as well as the universal experience of aging and for that I recommend it.

Certainly, I will be revisiting Rohinton Mistry in the future.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,675 reviews2,667 followers
February 21, 2018
This novel was another of my bibliotherapy prescriptions, specifically intended as a cure for worry about ageing parents. Retired professor Nariman Vakeel, 79, has Parkinson’s disease and within the first few chapters has also fallen and broken his ankle. His grown stepchildren, Coomy and Jal, who are reluctant to care for him anyway, decide they can’t cope with the daily reality of bedpans, sponge baths and spoon feeding and conspire to make it look like it’s impossible to keep Pappa in their large apartment at Chateau Felicity. He’ll simply have to go recuperate at Pleasant Villa in the care of his daughter Roxana and her husband and sons, even though their two-bedroom apartment is barely large enough for the family of four. You have to wince at the irony of the names for these two Bombay housing blocks, and at the bitter contrast between selfishness and duty. The spoiled stepchildren have plenty of money to hire a nurse, but shunt Pappa off to their poor relations instead, forcing Roxana’s husband Yezad and younger son Jehangir to resort to dodgy ways of making money quickly.

Perhaps inevitably, Nariman starts to fade into the background. An increasingly speechless invalid, he only comes alive through his past: italicized sections, presented as his night-time ravings, tell of his love for Lucy, whom his parents refused to let him marry, and the untimely end of his arranged marriage. Mistry drifts between the third-person perspectives of most of the main characters, especially Yezad and Jehangir. My reading progress slowed and nearly stalled two-thirds through when the plot focuses on Yezad’s work at the Bombay Sporting Goods Emporium and his attempts to earn a promotion. I also wish more had been made of his attempt to emigrate to Canada.

Overall, though, I enjoyed the time spent in a vibrantly realized Indian city and appreciated the chance to learn about a lesser-known community: Nariman and his whole family are Parsis or Zoroastrians, a tight-knit community with its own rituals and concerns about ethnic purity. There’s also a faint echo here of King Lear, with one faithful daughter set against two wicked children. (Nariman recognizes the parallel, shaking his head that, having taught Lear so many times, he didn’t learn its lessons.) Luckily Mistry doesn’t follow the tragedy through to its full extent; one particularly odious character gets a proper comeuppance, and the innocent one who suffers is a minor player.

As to ageing parents, this is a pretty relentlessly bleak picture, but there are some sparks of light: joy in life’s little celebrations, and unexpected kindnesses, like neighbor Daisy being willing to come play her violin any time Nariman is distressed. Mistry’s epic has plenty of tender moments that bring it down to an intimate scale. I’ll be keen to read his other novels.

Favorite lines:

“The joy and laughter and youth they [his grandsons] brought was an antidote to the sombreness enveloping his flat, the hours when he felt the very walls and ceilings were encrusted with the distress of unhappy decades.”

“The balcony door framed the scene: nine-year-old happily feeding seventy-nine.”

Nariman: “There’s only one way to defeat the sorrow and sadness of life – with laughter and rejoicing. Bring out the good dishes, put on your good clothes, no sense hoarding them.”

Roxana: “No time like the present. It’s a chance to practise kindness every day, like Daisy practises her violin. If they learn kindness, happiness will follow.”

Plus fun mentions of other Indian novels, including one of his own:

“Modern ideas have filled Nari’s head. He never learned to preserve that fine balance between tradition and modern-ness.”

“Yezad felt that Punjabi migrants of a certain age were like Indian authors writing about that period, whether in realist novels of corpse-filled trains or in the magic-realist midnight muddles
Profile Image for Joy D.
2,070 reviews241 followers
August 21, 2022
This is a beautifully written story that focuses on a Parsi family living in Bombay (Mumbai) in the 1990s. They live in a small flat. The mother’s step siblings deposit her injured and aging father, who is also battling Parkinson’s disease, on her doorstep when they are unable or unwilling to care for him. It is about ordinary lives that are transformed by bad luck, and how they respond to these challenges. It is filled with moral dilemmas, especially for the family’s patriarch, Yesad. The relationship between the youngest child and the grandfather is portrayed with such tenderness. The child wants to help and even finds a way of making money and secretly slipping it into the family’s funds. It poignantly depicts family dynamics, the big changes taking place in the city, Parsi beliefs and concerns, and Hindu-Muslim tensions of the time period. Themes include elder care, family bonds, corruption, sense of belonging, religion, and the generation gap. It is a bittersweet and intimate story told in Mistry’s elegant style. It is slow in developing, but the payoff is well worth it. It is a book to become immersed in. Truly a gem.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,782 reviews14.2k followers
May 30, 2013
The one thing that is common to all cultures is the difficulties in taking care of our aged parents or other family members. So from the beginning this story really hit home, basically had something similar to this happen in my husband's family, although I felt this was a bit exaggerated. The characters were all well drawn, even the characters on the sidelines were interesting and the two young boys won my heart. It definitely showed the effects and strain on everyone in the family and even when things are somewhat resolved these effects still linger. The amazing thing about this novel is that there is still humor and plenty of love, touching moments and though the novel ended in a way I wish it hadn't, the ending was real not sugar coated for a happy ending. Will definitely read more by this author.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
308 reviews170 followers
November 7, 2007
I usually feel a little bit of glow after finishing any book. I have the bad habit of calling every book I just finished "my favorite" -- until I finish the next one. But in this case, I really must stress that Family Matters is one of the best books I have ever read. I never re-read books, but this is one of those rare gems that even I want to return to.

If you took all of Shakespeare's tragedies, condensed them into a story about one family, and set it in Bombay in the 1990s, this book would be the result. Family Matters goes above and beyond the mundane and the domestic (even though most of the action takes place in a one-bedroom apartment) and tells the story of human beings and their relationships to one another: both the sublime and the foolish, the selfish and the divine.

In this book Mistry makes several obscure references to India, Indian politics, and Zoroastrianism, and several pieces of dialog are in various languages other than English, but despite these barriers for a Western reader, I would whole-heartedly recommend this novel to anyone I know, especially to anyone who likes Shakespeare or otherwise enjoys stories that tackle all the really hard questions.

There are several funny and witty moments throughout the book, but overall the tone is one of heart-crushing poignancy. Sometimes it was literally painful to read this book because so many scenes and remarks and characters were so powerful and moving -- in short, this is not a book to be picked up and put down lightly. You will get involved in it as though every joy and tragedy were happening within your own family.
Profile Image for robin friedman.
1,815 reviews241 followers
August 1, 2023
Human Matters

I was initially attracted to Rohinton Mistry's novel "Family Matters" (2002) because its central characters are adherents of the Zoroastrian (Parsee) religion living in Bombay. Zoroastrianism and its practitioners are rarely treated in fiction. The religion is ancient, one of the world's first monotheistic faiths, and small with a dwindling number of adherents. As emphasized in Mistry's novel, Zoroastrianism is threatened by assimilation and intermarriage, and there are currently factions between the more traditional and the more reformist elements of the faith. In reading Mistry's book, I was reminded of a non-scholarly but still good introduction to Zoroastrianism that I read some time ago, Paul Kriwaczek's "In Search of Zarathurstra: Across Iran and Central Asia to find the World's First Prophet". This book is available in paperback, and I recommend it to readers of this novel who may wish to explore Zoroastrianism. It more than merits studying.

With that said, Mistry's novel is less about Zoroastrianism per se than about common and intimate human concerns that, in this book, arise in a Parsee family in Bombay but, with allowances for place and culture, could arise frequently elsewhere. I was struck with the painful and in part intractable themes in this book. The story deals with questions of religious intermarriage, problems arising in a "blended" family between parents, stepparents, children, and stepchildren, the difficulties of caring for an aged and ailing parent, and questions of guilt and change that can result in a family member as a result of dealing with these dilemmas.

The central character of the book is Nariman Vakeel, a retired professor of English, 79 years old at the outset of the story and suffering from Parkinson's disease. In middle-age, Nariman fell in love with a non-Parsee woman, Lucy, but reluctantly gave her up based upon objections from his family. He married instead a widow whom he did not love, Yasmin, with two children, a daughter, Coomy and a son, Jal. Nariman has never lost his feelings for Lucy who haunts and follows him incessantly during the early years of his marriage to Yasmin.

At the outset of the book Coomy and Jal, unmarried, live with each other and their stepfather. Nariman and Yasmin have their own daughter, Roxanna, who is married to Yezad with two young boys, Jehangir and Murad. They live in a small flat Nariman has purchased for them with his retirement savings.

When Nariman breaks his ankle and become bedridden, Coomy and Jal resent having to care for him -- particularly for the need of tending to his bodily functions which are intimately and fully described in the book. They foist Nariman's care onto Roxanna and Yezad. The book deals with the difficulties the couple and their children encounter in their tiny flat in caring for their grandfather and in finding space and money. Roxanna and Yezad begin to quarrel and each member of the family engages in compromising, questionable practices to bring in more money, to the detriment of their views of themselves.

The novel details the fighting between Roxanna and Yezad and their relationships with Coomy and Jal. The characters are admirably individual and well-differentiated in this troubled story. There are many well-drawn secondary characters, including Yezad's boss, Mr. Kapur, the owner of a sporting-goods store, and Daisy a violinist in the Bombay Symphony Orchestra and a neighbor of Roxanna and Yezad who befriends the family and Nariman. She visits the flat to play the violin to comfort him.

As the story progresses, events with Nariman and between Rozanna and her siblings come to a sharp climax and denouement. The plot line is melodramatic in places. Yezad, guilt-ridden and needing consolation from the difficulties resulting from caring for Nariman, becomes increasingly attracted to Zoroastrian observances, seeking the consolation of religion. As the book progresses, he moves from skepticism and secularism to a traditional form of Zoroastrian practice, to the distress of his family. In the long epilogue to the story, Yezad becomes highly critical of his adolescent sons for dating and becoming involved with non-Zoroastrian young women. In a sense, "the wheel has come full circle" as Yezad comes to adopt the behavior of Nariman's family, with their strong discouragement of Nariman's romantic interest in Lucy.

The book deals with common matters but not easy matters with a realism (in spite of some plot machinations) both provocative and wrenching. There are places in the book where each of the characters could have behaved differently. But I came away from the book with a feeling that I didn't want to judge any of the characters too harshly or to impose "shoulds" on them.

Two thoughts stayed with me upon completing the book. First, the book left with me with a feeling of compassion for human frailty -- and with the vague impression of the importance of some form of religion for teaching a sense of compassion. (There is a wonderful passage in the book in which Yezad and his family discuss having pictures and memorabilia of all the great religions of the world in one's home -- to promote a sense of tolerance and to remind oneself that each religion has something to teach in approaching transcendent reality.) Second, and with a more secular bent, the book reminded me of the power or art, coupled with compassion, to ease the difficult problems of human life. I found Daisy, who faithfully comes to soothe Nariman with music from her violin exemplifies both art and compassion. In the book, Daisy realizes her dream of playing the solo part in Beethoven's violin concerto with the Bombay Philharmonic. In this great work of music, and in the book, there is a timeless message of the power of art to transcend human suffering.

Robin Friedman
Profile Image for Inderjit Sanghera.
450 reviews90 followers
April 18, 2020
'Family Matters' follows the story of Nariman, an aged man who is beset by parkinsons and the indifference of his step-children, whose mind slowly unravels as the novel progresses and whose condition acts as a catalyst for change, both good and bad, to those around him. Whilst Nariman's parkinsons is the catalyst behind the changes which take place in the lives of the characters, the focus is on family dynamics rather than the condition itself, indeed for most of the novel Nariman is relegated to the periphery, a lachrymose figure whose pain and isolation seeps into the lives of those around him. His daughter, Roxana, ends up caring for him as her husband, Yezad, becomes increasingly desperate and distraught by the responsibility of providing for Neriman. In the meantime, Neriman's step-children, Jal and Coomy, are wracked with guilt for abandoning him at the door of Roxana and Yezad. 

As with most of Mistry's stories, there is a great deal if more ambiguity surrounding the characters and their actions-shades of grey rather than black and white-as Mistry refuses to provide easy answers to the various dilemmas which the characters find themselves in. So Yezas's initial disdain and selfishness is transformed into a feeling of love and compassion and spirituality which eventually transforms into a bigotry which is so at odds with his initial character, so his son Jehangir develops a sense of empathy for his grandfather and his step-daughter Coomy descends even deeper into the sense of bitterness which has permeated her outlook on life. There are also a set of secondary characters in the novel, from the eccentric but kindly Mr Kapur, to the pathetic Villie and the ghost of Neriman's young love Lucy, who add further depth to the main characters and the story.

''Family Matters' is a profound and brilliant exploration of old age, of family dynamics and of life in an Bombay which is beset by constant flux and change, as well as the Parsi community which exists there and which feels like it is slowly losing its identity. 
Profile Image for Susana.
490 reviews150 followers
July 29, 2023

Uma interessante narrativa sobre uma família indiana, em que se abordam algumas questões relacionadas com as crenças religiosas e o seu impacto na vida dos seus membros.

Não é extraordinário, mas é absorvente.
Lê-se bem e ficamos a saber mais coisas sobre uma cultura diferente (apesar da influência inglesa), o que é sempre bom.
Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,780 reviews1,458 followers
October 11, 2013
ETA: The only reason I originally gave this three rather than two stars was that:

1. it accurately describes the deplorable way we today deal with old age and sickness in MANY countries of the world, and

2. not all blame was heaped on the government. People are who they are and unfortunately we often fail in coping with sick and/or elderly in our own family.

The book was realistic. In its realism I found it terribly depressing.


All I can say is that this book made me miserable. I cannot deal with stories about dysfunctional families. I get frustrated and unhappy. When you read stories about how people have a hard time because they get caught in a war or a storm or genocide, you watch them fight to survive and you feel a bit of hope for mankind. These characters are strong and have fought for survival and at least some have succeeded. When you watch how normal people are mean to each other you only get filled with despair. I don’t know what to do with my unhappiness when I read such books, books like this one by Robinton Mistry.

The events described were very realistic, it is not that I am criticizing. I am in fact not criticizing the book in any way. It is about the importance of family. I mean look at that title! You learn about life in Bombay in the 90s. Corruption – there it is in one word. Life is a struggle for so many. Poor health care and no social network for the aged. This book is about not only the importance of family, but also about aging and how the young and old have so much to teach each other, but the message is clear that we rarely have the energy to stop and learn from each other. We are too busy just getting through life day by day.

Did I learn anything? Well maybe a bit about Parsi traditions and culture.

This book makes me thankful for living in countries that provide good health care and a relatively good social standard for ALL.

Martin Jarvis’ narration of the audiobook was excellent. Really excellent. Each character had their own intonation and you knew who was speaking just by the tone.

Profile Image for Julia.
159 reviews50 followers
January 9, 2011
This book did for me what Suketu Mehta's "Bombay. Maximum City" couldn't - I could see, smell and feel the mega-city throughout the pages of this both realistic and nostalgic novel. I suppose that also my unability to throrouhghly enjoy non-fiction plays a role in this, I just need characters and plot to stay interested through a thick volume and Mistry provides both in a masterly way. Bombay and his protagonist's love and hate for the rotting and still lovely and lively place is one of the topics he adresses in "Family Matters" and maybe I should be thankful to Mehta that he helped me understand some of the political and social allusions which Mistry presents without explaining them for unenlightened readers - not a minus in my opinion as there's plenty of information somewhere else on the Shiv Sena party, on Zoroastrianism and housing situation in Bombay/Mumbai (hard to decide which name to use as through this book I've learned that even for the inhabitants it's a question of faith to opt for one or the other). I like learning stuff in books and this one made me look up many things about the Parsi community and other topics I didn't know much about, but Familiy Matters can definitely be also read just as a great story without getting further involved in Indian history or politics.

As important as the city and inertwined with its destiny is the family whose matters have baptized the book. And the people portrayed by Mistry are wonderfully recognizable for everyone throughout the world: they're real, poignantly described, believable. I loved them, abhorred them, cared for them and wanted to yell at them sometimes, and I'll remember their fate and their evolution for a long time. And evolution is another big topic: Aging or the becoming of age, the growing up of children and the slow decay of the old - time and it's consuming nature make the reader sad and appreciative of the moment.

Also the repetition of everything throughout history is tackled in a smooth way which doesn't seem forced: When in the epilogue the history of the grandfather and his tragic love seems to foreshadow the destiny of his grandson, the circle closes in an elegant way. Shakespeare is quoted several times and the novel definitely has a Shakespearean character - definitely recommended.
Profile Image for Prashanth Bhat.
1,626 reviews97 followers
September 21, 2020
Family matters - rohinton mistry

ಬರೆದದ್ದು ಮೂರು ಕಾದಂಬರಿ. ಒಂದು ಕಥಾಸಂಕಲನ. ಎಲ್ಲವೂ ಮುಂಬಯಿಯ ಪಾರ್ಸಿಗಳ ಜೀವನದ್ದೇ ಕಥೆ. ಅದರಲ್ಲಿ ಎರಡು ಕಾದಂಬರಿ ಎಮರ್ಜೆನ್ಸಿ ಕಾಲಘಟ್ಟದ್ದು. ಒಂದು ತೊಂಬತ್ತರ ದಶಕದ್ದು. ಇಷ್ಟು ಸೀಮಿತ ಬರವಣಿಗೆಯ ಲೇಖಕ ಅಷ್ಟೆಲ್ಲ ಇಷ್ಟವಾಗಲು ಕಾರಣವೇನು?
ಸರಳ ಬರವಣಿಗೆಯ ಶೈಲಿ. ಓದುತ್ತಿದ್ದ ಹಾಗೆ ನಮ್ಮೊಳಗನ್ನು ಬೆಚ್ಚಗಾಗಿಸುವ ಭಾವಗಳು.

ಅವ ಅಜ್ಜ. ಎಂಬತ್ತು ಇನ್ನೇನು ತುಂಬಲಿದೆ. ತನ್ನ ಸಾಕು ಮಗ ಸಾಕು ಮಗಳೊಂದಿಗೆ ತನ್ನ ಅಪಾರ್ಟ್ಮೆಂಟ್‌ನಲ್ಲಿ ಇದ್ದಾನೆ. ವೃದ್ಧಾಪ್ಯ ಆವರಿಸುತ್ತಿದೆ. ಅವನಿಗೆ ‌ಪಾರ್ಕಿನ್‍ಸನ್ ಖಾಯಿಲೆ. ನೆನಪುಗಳು ದಾಂಗುಡಿಯಿಡುತ್ತಿವೆ..
ಅವನ ನೋಡಿಕೊಳ್ಳಲು ಅವರಿಗೆ ಕಷ್ಟವಾಗುತ್ತಿದೆ. ಅದಕ್ಕವರು ಕಂಡುಕೊಂಡ ದಾರಿ ಅವನನ್ನು ಅವನ ಸ್ವಂತ ಮಗಳ ಮನೆಗೆ ನೆಪ ಹೇಳಿ ಸಾಗಹಾಕುವುದು.
ಆ ಮಗಳದು ಇನ್ನೊಂದು ಕಥೆ. ಕ್ರೀಡಾ ಸಾಮಾಗ್ರಿ ಮಾರುವ ಅಂಗಡಿಯಲ್ಲಿ ಕೆಲಸ ಮಾಡುವ ಗಂಡ ,ಇಬ್ಬರು ಗಂಡುಮಕ್ಕಳ ಜೊತೆ ಕಿಷ್ಕಿಂದೆಯಂತಹ ಅಪಾರ್ಟ್ಮೆಂಟ್. ಇಷ್ಟರವರೆಗೆ ವಾರಕ್ಕೊಮ್ಮೆ ಹೋಗಿ ಅಪ್ಪನ ಯೋಗಕ್ಷೇಮ ವಿಚಾರಿಸಿದರೆ ಮುಗಿಯಿತು. ಈಗ ಅಪ್ಪನ ನೋಡಿಕೊಳ್ಳಬೇಕು. ಹತ್ತು ದಿನ ಅಂದದ್ದು ನಿಧಾನವಾಗಿ ಜಾಲವೆಂದು ಅವರಿಗೆ ಅರಿವಾಗುತ್ತದೆ.ಏರುವ ಖರ್ಚು, ಸಂಸಾರ ಸರಿದೂಗಿಸಬೇಕಾದ ಅನಿವಾರ್ಯತೆ..ಹೀಗೆ ಕಥೆ.

ಮಿಸ್ಟ್ರಿ ಚಿಕ್ಕ ಚಿಕ್ಕ ವಿವರಗಳ, ಬದುಕಿನ ಖುಷಿಗಳ ತುಂಬಾ ಸಲ ಬೇಸರವ ಬಿಚ್ಚಿಡುವ ರೀತಿ ನಮ್ಮನ್ನು ಕಾಡಿಸುತ್ತದೆ. ರಾತ್ರಿ ಪಾಳಿಯಲ್ಲಿ ಇದನ್ನು ಓದುತ್ತಾ ಮೈ ಮರೆತವನಿಗೆ ಮುಗಿಸಿದಾಗ ಉಂಟಾದ ನಿರ್ವಾತ ಹಂಚಿಕೊಳ್ಳಲು ಸಿಗದ ಜೀವವೊಂದರ ಖಾಲಿತನ ಮನುಷ್ಯ ಬದುಕಿನ ಅಗತ್ಯಗಳ , ತೆರೆದುಕೊಳ್ಳುವ ಹಪಾಹಪಿಗಳ ನೆನಪಿಸಿತು‌.

ಕೊನೆ ಕೊನೆಗೆ ದೇವರೇ, ಹಾಗೇ ಆಗಲಪ್ಪ ಎಂದು ಬೇಡಿಕೊಳ್ಳುವಷ್ಟು ಭಾವುಕನಾದೆ. ನಾನು ಆಶಿಸಿದ ಹಾಗೇ ಆಯಿತು ಆದರೆ ಅಲ್ಲಿಗೇ ನಿಲ್ಲದೆ ಬದುಕು ಮುಂದುವರೆಯಿತು. ಉಪಸಂಹಾರದಲ್ಲಿ ಕಥೆ ಬದುಕಿನ ವಾಸ್ತವಗಳ ಇನ್ನಷ್ಟು ಪರಿಚಯಿಸಿತು. ನಿಮ್ಮ ಕೈಯೊಳಗಣ ಪ್ರೀತಿಪಾತ್ರ ಕಂದ ಬೆಳೆದಂತೆ ನಿಮಗೆ ಪ್ರಶ್ನೆ ಮಾಡುತ್ತಾನೆ. ಬದಲಾವಣೆ ಜೀವನದ ಲಕ್ಷಣ ಅಲ್ಲವೇ?

ಕೆಲವು ಪುಸ್ತಕಗಳ ಓದುವಾಗ ಓದಿನ ಹವ್ಯಾಸ ಇರುವುದು ನನ್ನ ಈ ಜೀವನದ ಮಹಾಭಾಗ್ಯ ಅನಿಸುತ್ತದೆ.
ರೋಹಿನ್‌ಟನ್ ಮಿಸ್ಟ್ರಿಯ ಪ್ರತೀ ಕೃತಿ ಓದಿದಾಗಲೂ ನನಗೆ ಹಾಗನಿಸಿದೆ‌.

ಛೇ ಅವನಿನ್ನೇನೂ ಬರೆದಿಲ್ಲವಲ್ಲ!
Profile Image for Ann.
180 reviews59 followers
March 27, 2023
This wonderful work has everything a reader could wish for in a novel about a family. Set in Bombay in the 90’s, the main characters consist of three generations of a Parsi family. The eldest family member (grandfather/father) suffers from Parkinson’s, and a significant theme in the novel relates to caring for our elderly, sick family members at home. Any reader who has taken a significant role in aging parental care will fully recognize the burdens of keeping a sick person fed and cleaned – as well as the joys of sharing remaining time with a loved one and watching the grandchildren learn from the dying person. This novel perfectly portrayed the way these burdens are shared (or not!) in a family. As in any family, in this one there are money issues, with their overt and underlying effects. There are marital relationships full of love and tension. There are children to be raised with kindness and boundaries. There are sibling relationships and in-law relationships, each with its own particular flavor. There are also past family tragedies and related, retained guilt. The family is Parsi, and one benefit of the novel for me was learning about this old and interesting religion. As in any family, some family members are devout, some just practice their religion and some scoff it - - another element of life shared by many families. There is death and there is the continuous stream of life. All these themes and events are extremely well presented through fully drawn, complete characters. This is a novel about all facets of life as expertly portrayed in the hands of a master novelist.
Profile Image for Kara Babcock.
1,954 reviews1,292 followers
February 22, 2018
Reading Family Matters after reading A Fine Balance is a little anticlimactic. A Fine Balance comes very close to my idea of a perfect novel, so I doubted that Rohinton Mistry would be able to deliver something of similar calibre a second time. There is just something about A Fine Balance that smashes that wall between reader and text, breaking down the barrier until the fiction becomes as close to truth as fiction can. It is a visceral, highly emotional experience—and it is utterly singular and impossible to replicate. While I might give another Mistry book five stars, he has set the standard high. Family Matters is an excellent book, but it doesn’t quite pack the same punch.

Like A Fine Balance, this novel is set in Mumbai (then Bombay, and the nationalistic name change is an important plot point). Whereas the former is set during The Emergency, this novel is more contemporary, set sometime in the 1990s (I believe; I didn’t catch an exact date). The right-wing and volatile Shiv Sena party is in power throughout the region, whipping up a nationalistic fervour at the expense of tolerance for India’s diverse religions and cultures. In the midst of these times of change, we follow an extended family: Nariman, who slowly succumbing to Parkinson’s; his two step-children, Jal and Coomy; his daughter, Roxana; and Roxana’s husband, Yezad, and their two children, Jehangir, and Murad. When Nariman falls and breaks his leg while walking, he faces four weeks of immobility and bed rest. Though he has always lived with Jal and Coomy since his wife died, Coomy finds herself unwilling to shoulder this burden, so she literally shows up at Roxana and Yezad’s doorstep with Nariman and without warning. Talk about pushy!

At its best, Family Matters is the intricate interplay of three generations. Nariman continually recalls intense memories of a doomed love affair with a non-Parsi girl, and how she continued to dog him even after his ill-fated arranged marriage to Jal and Coomy’s mother. He is a victim of the conservative bigotry of his parents and their friends, but he is not a shining husband to his new bride. Nariman carries around a lot of guilt, and it is interesting to see the contrast between the young man and the ailing one in the present day.

Jal, Coomy, Roxana, and Yezad all belong to the latest batch of “adults”, though with Jal and Coomy that is a term only loosely applied. After Coomy unilaterally decides to transfer Nariman’s care to Roxana and Yezad, we see the impact of caring for an older relative on the lifestyle and budget of a middle-class Indian family. Money becomes a real issue, and at times Yezad is sorely tempted to abandon the “Parsi honesty” that has made him beloved to his boss at Bombay Sporting Goods.

Their son, Jehangir, does more than contemplate. Always honest before, Jehangir overhears how his parents are tight for money and wonders how he can help. He crosses the line and accepts a 20-rupee bribe in his official capacity as Homework Monitor. It’s one of those pivotal points in the novel: as he is about to accept the bribe, I wanted to do something and make him stop, even though I knew he was going to do it. A lot of the novel is like that: moments where suddenly the narrative tilts and becomes very predictable, but in a car-crash-like manner.

We don’t learn all that much about Murad, Jehangir’s older brother. He is sort of the silent sibling, speaking up only when there needs to be a counterpoint to Jehangir’s insistent voice. I wish we had learned more about him and about what he was going through at that age, especially since he becomes a more important character in the novel’s quixotic epilogue.

The epilogue is definitely the part of Family Matters that gives me, as a reader, the most difficulty processing. Part of me wonders why it’s there. It skips forward five years, after a semi-satisfactory resolution that doesn’t leave me quite as despairing as A Fine Balance—and Mistry wrecks everything! Yezad has embraced his newfound faith in Zoroastrianism in an extreme way, butting heads with both his wife and the rebellious teenaged Murad. If I had to guess, I’d say that Mistry includes this epilogue as a reminder that happy endings don’t stay that way: no situation remains stable forever, and what might appear a happy ending could very well lead to further trouble down the road.

I kind of feel like I am rambling on and stirring up name soup without actually saying much. I am having difficulty reviewing this novel because the whole thing works so well together, but when I try to pick out one of the parts, the entire structure collapses on me. I can’t talk just about the way Yezad interacts with the political pressures on his boss or just about Jal and Coomy’s abominable behaviour regarding Nariman’s care. The book is aptly titled, because all of these events together create a story that is worth reading. The significance of Family Matters comes not from what Mistry has to say on any one topic, but the way each of those topics affects the members of this family.

Not everyone will invest in the characters in such a way that the experience becomes meaningful. I did, although I didn’t enjoy the portrayals of these people as much as I did the characters of A Fine Balance. Both novels, however, are incredibly intimate experiences. Moreover, I love the opportunity they give me to open my eyes and see a country and cultures that truly differ from my own views in so many different ways. (Yes, this is Mistry’s interpretation of India, and I am aware that doesn’t come without its own baggage. One advantage to reading A Fine Balance before Family Matters is that I recognized all the subtle digs he includes aimed at various critics of the former novel.) I don’t just read fiction about India for the novelty value: I do it because I could read hundreds of novels set in the Western world, and they would improve my vocabulary and my literary aptitude, but they would only reinforce my biases and beliefs. There is so much more out there—and at the same time, even families on the other side of the world struggle with issues I can recognize: the ailing elder and his lost love; deceit and desperation; trepidation over the changing times. Family Matters is strange and foreign but also comforting and familiar, and so while it is not quite sublime, it is definitely successful.

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This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Neil.
1,007 reviews651 followers
October 24, 2017
I read this as part of the Mookse and Gripes reading of the 2002 Man Booker Prize shortlist. I am not sure I would have picked it up apart from that incentive. To be honest, after about 100 pages, I was thinking of putting it back down again. It is, deliberately I believe, farcical as it relates the story of members a family battling against one another. The book description here on Goodreads provides all the plot background that is necessary, so there is no need for me to write anything about that. As we are introduced to the family, we see them plotting and scheming, especially Coomy, Nariman’s step-daughter who wants a break from looking after her step-father in his dotage. When Nariman’s circumstances mean he moves to stay with his biological daughter and her family, the focus of the story moves with him and we see Yezad, the husband, now scheming to attempt to make ends meet with an additional member of the household (an expensive one, at that, with his medical requirements).

There’s an obvious play on words at work in the title where “Family Matters” can mean both "Family Topics" and "Family Is Important". The family topics drive the plot and the importance of family provides one of the main underlying themes. It is clear that all the family members in the main group of the story follow dreams of a better life. They bemoan the state of their city and their country (there are repeated references to Shiv Sena, a far-right political party that it seems many citizens live in fear of), with Yezad in particular having previously taken steps to attempt to leave India and head for Canada. And one of his sons, Jehangir, sees an idealised world described in Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books and contemplates the meaning of Father Christmas saying

In a way, thought Jehangir, the Santa Claus story was like the Famous Five Books. You knew none of it was real, but it let you imagine there was a better world somewhere.

Reading the book was a very up and down experience for me. As I say, I nearly put it down after 100 pages (it is far easier to put down a library book than it is one that you have paid good money for!), but then things picked up and the middle (and largest) section of the book was an interesting and absorbing story. But then the story veered off into a strongly religious commentary at the end which didn’t seem to fit with the rest of the book. To me, it felt like Mistry wanted to include some thoughts on this and almost tacked them on to the end of the book.

In the end, I’m glad I kept going and didn’t stop after 100 pages, but I do rather wish the final 100 pages had been a bit different. The middle 300 pages were very enjoyable!
Profile Image for Sushma Manava.
91 reviews1 follower
September 28, 2019
What a lovely book. I have new found empathy for old people and all that they suffer and how helpless they feel. Every person in this family was so unique and well represented. LOVED this book so much.
Profile Image for Jonathan Pool.
569 reviews102 followers
January 9, 2023
Rohinton Mistry cannot be called a prolific writer and his legacy is ensured with the classic, Booker Prize listed, A Fine Balance

There are similarities between Family Matters and its predecessor, and this latter novel comes off worse for the most part. Actually the overriding theme is much the same in Family Matters.
Early in the book, patriarch, Nariman is assessed: “he never learned to preserve that fine balance between tradition and modernness” (15)

While I liked the book well enough I had an unusually blank response to the leading character, though some of the supporting cast were full of life and individuality.
Before the focus becomes fixed firmly on Yezad (the primary figure who comes to adopt a stricter, more orthodox religion as the book progresses), the step family and love triangle elements that started the book held great promise that was ultimately unfulfilled. Nariman, and Roxana, and Nari’s step children Jal and Coomy, were set up for a fascinating struggle, laced with friction, as inheritance and notions of family duty came to the fore. Lucy Braganza was a character potentially adding more fuel to the ‘family matters’ of the book’s title, but her potential was ultimately unrealised once Yezad took centre stage, and that’s a pity.

The supporting cast were wonderfully kooky.

• Villie Cardmaster is a faux mystic who has a small time business promoting the Matka, illegal, numbers game.
• Vilas Rane, the scribe providing an agony uncle letter writing service.
• Daisy, the concert violinist.
• Edul Munchi, the DIY handyman (self taught). A walking health and safety hazard.

As Yezad increasingly dominates the page from the mid-point, Mistry, through him, focuses on religion, and the key takeaway from the book for me is the strange customs and inward looking nature of Mistry’s own cultural roots.

The Parsi Religion

• Zoroastrianism (origin in Iran/Persia) can be divided in two main schools of thought: reformists and traditionalists. Traditionalists are mostly Parsis and they generally do not allow conversion to the faith and, as such, for someone to be a Zoroastrian they must be born of Zoroastrian parents. Some traditionalists recognize the children of mixed marriages as Zoroastrians, though usually only if the father is a born Zoroastrian.
No wonder that Mistry has Yezad and the Parsi elders debate and bemoan falling Parsi birth rates

• Towers of Silence. Vultures eat the deceased Parsi (earth, fire and water cannot be contaminated). No burial or cremation takes place. A vulture crisis in India (they are dying off) is obliging the community to devise ways to speed the process.

• The Fire Temple, and the Navjote ceremony

• League of Orthodox Parsis and the Association for Zarathustrian Education

The Shiva Sena, Hindutva, and Indian Politics

• Mistry himself became involved in controversy at Mumbai University in 2010 due to language used in his debut novel Such a Long Journey against Bal Thackeray, leader of Shiv Sena, a political party from Maharashtra, as well as some remarks about Maharashtrians. The University of Mumbai used emergency powers to withdraw the book from the syllabus.

• Shiv Sena was a right-wing Marathi regionalist and Hindu ultranationalist political party founded in 1966. Originally emerging from nativist movements in Bombay, the party agitated for preferential treatment for the Marathi people over migrants from other parts of India.

o This has ongoing relevance for politics in India in 2022 “Only Bal Thackeray supported the then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi on Hindutva (“Hindu-ness”), an ideology that seeks to define Indian culture in terms of Hindu values. (“true sons of the soil”. Hindu holy lands are in India)
Murad, teenage son of Yezad is seen by father kissing “a Maharashtrian girl”. This goes down very badly.

Given that Mistry uses his text to divert into polemic, it seems fair to provide extra context for the politics which he spotlights. Only 57,000 Parsis live in India in 2020 (down 20% since 2000). Why then, in Family Matters, do Parsis live in mixed accommodation blocks? Why do Parsis attend schools where the children (and teachers) from the Portuguese community in the Goa region? (Miss Fernandez is a respected teacher and Yezad’s boys attend class with Monteiro, and Lobo). Lucy Braganza’s background can be guessed at and this explains the antagonism towards Nari.
One sign off point of interest: the most famous Parsi was the late Freddie Mercury.

Family Matters was several hundred pages too long imo. It became an overtly political and religious book, and one in which the author’s own background was such that it sent mixed messages. If you are going to write a defence of the Parthi cultural group, and to explain and shine a light on their practices, then I think it would be better to do so unashamedly rather than smuggle it into a different book, the one of the first 250 pages; the part that could accurately be called “Family Matters”.
Profile Image for aPriL does feral sometimes .
1,931 reviews438 followers
May 20, 2013
I liked this book after awhile, but initially, one of the characters, Coomy, irritated me so much I almost quit. Although the story is about a Mumbai family of Parsi's, and there are many Indian cultural-specific foods, religious customs and words mentioned, I felt this is a universal story about all affectionate, middle-class families. But on the other hand, the universality reminded me of the claustrophobic and eternal familial struggles of all human family life, which affect most families throughout time, and I not only am glad I currently live in a two-person household, but I found myself longing a bit for the hermit life.

While culture and the crowded environment, and particularly religion, for this family, appeared to crush the sparkle out of them, it was the moderate kindness of certain family members at certain times that preserved what warmth and affection they possessed, even amplified their love for each other enough to survive as a family. They all seemed to feel family was important, even though each generation eventually succumbs to the constant downpour of the stresses of survival.

Each individual in the story faces a personal trial which tests them in their personal beliefs about their world and about who they think they are, and most of them fail this test. Interestingly, of those who fail, some pick themselves up, admit their mistakes, and move on with more depth and wisdom. Others who feel they failed themselves begin to live lives of cringing fear, miserly grasping, and shrunken angry personalities. These are the individuals who bring cruelty and harshness into their family life, in this case, using religion to stifle and smother the natural bouyancy of everyone else. It is clearly fear and angst behind their controlling rigidity, but another generation is coming up, in turn struggling to define who they are and untested, willing to fight against parental and cultural boundaries.

I think the novel is very realistic, and it speaks to those of us that have become aware cultural and religious assumptions can be a straightjacket as well as a support, and sometimes the tests we each face alone that show us to ourselves mean stepping outside what we believed. In standing alone in that new reality, some of us accept the losses of our grandiosity and beliefs, while others curl up into a ball and hide, chaining themselves hard to the first thing which feels safe, no matter how illusionary. .

Mistry starts and ends the book with the aging of Nariman, a fascinating and bittersweet look at what the end of a long life is like, when the body is quitting. Most of the family members reveal the best and worst of who they are through how they react to this intelligent, but physically failing, head of the family. He has Parkinson's and osteoporosis, and after breaking his leg becomes bedridden. Nariman's and 9-year-old Jehanger's relationship is the most heartwarming one in the book, as grandfather and grandson share each other joys and pains with a purity closest to what we all strive for in a relationship. Watching them through Roxana's eyes (who is Jehanger's mother and Nariman's daughter), made me think this is why people continue to create families in spite of the shoving and shaping families do to our destinies.
Profile Image for Aš ir knyga.
145 reviews62 followers
September 4, 2021
Istorija nukelia mus į Indiją, į vieną šeimą. Tačiau, ji gali nutikti bet kur, bet kurioje šeimoje. Senstame visi ir kartais tampame našta savo šeimai.
Senukas suserga, o jį karšinti nori ne visi. Aplink sukasi artimųjų pokalbiai, nusivylimas, pyktis, tačiau jis jau paskendęs savo praeities prisiminimuose.
Knygoje tikrai jaučiasi Indija, su savo kvapais, religija, istorija. Gili, jautri, tačiau buvo ir juokingų vietų. Nors mane papiktino vienas momentas, rodos, ne viduramžiai, bet jų religiniai įsitikinimai kaip iš jų.
Man labai patiko mažųjų berniukų meilė tėvams ir seneliui. Pagarba savo šeimai, nes ji yra viskas.
Jaudinanti knyga apie kasdienius dalykus, iš kurių susideda mūsų gyvenimas.
Profile Image for Julia.
408 reviews19 followers
February 18, 2014
beautiful, beautiful and again - beautiful. what an amazing book !!

'a fine balance' by the same author is also on my top list, and i'm so glad this one made it there as well.

i simply don't have enough words to explain this book ... just read it ... now ... :)
Profile Image for Karen.
796 reviews93 followers
March 14, 2020
Family Matters
By Rohinton Mistry

I loved this novel and I am keeping this brief as other reviewers have captured the essence of this novel better than I could ever do it justice. Bombay as the setting came alive to me and the writing is stunning. I really felt heartbroken for this man who needs to be cared for by his family because he is progressing and his body is deteriorating as those do who are stricken by Parkinson's disease. My heart went out to him as there is much strife that takes place by the members of his family who most don't want to carry the burden of caring for him. His wonderful daughter Roxanne rises to the occasion of caring for her father. She seemed like a saint but had difficulties with her husband over the period of time as he seemed resentful of her duties taking care of her father. There is so much depth of the character development of all of the other characters who make this story timeless and universal. This was nominated for the Booker prize and I am surprised that this masterpiece didn't win. I want to read Rohinton Mistry's other work because I admired his talent in his ability to capture my heart reading this one. I can't recommend this highly enough to convey how moving and touching this novel is. It is just so multilayered about several themes which other reviewers have beautifully rendered already. I am looking forward to reading his book called "A Fine Balance." I must admit that I am late to discover this talented author but am grateful that I finally had the pleasure to discover him regardless.
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