by Rohinton Mistry
Mistry, the author of the 1996 Oprah
selection A Fine Balance
, returns to grapple with class conflicts, forbidden romances and familial secrets in modern India, but this time his themes (lately explored also in the hit indie film Monsoon Wedding
) feel as familiar as rice.
Where the author excels, however, is in his use of language, which vacillates between curry-pungent and rosewater-delicate. Watching her 9-year-old son feed her 79-year-old father, "Roxana felt she understood the meaning of it all, of birth and life and death," writes Mistry. "My son, she thought, my father, and the food I cooked...A lump came to her throat; she swallowed."
Such moments shine in an otherwise plodding work. Centered around Nariman, a kindly patriarch suffering from Parkinson's disease, and his three bickering grown children, the story jumps between the present (the family's unraveling) and the past (in his youth, Nariman lost his true love because his parents didn't think she was suitable). In both eras Mistry finds little new under the hot Bombay sun. (Knopf, $26)
BOTTOM LINE: A tired family affair