As an epigraph to his humane and generous novel Family Matters, Rohinton Mistry uses a reverse version of Tolstoy's words from Anna Karenina--"Each happy family is happy in its own way, but all unhappy families resemble one another". The unhappy family in this book belongs to Nariman Vakeel, an elderly, retired English teacher in Bombay. His stepson Jal and stepdaughter Coomy look after the old man, who suffers from Parkinson's disease, but a street accident renders him even more in need of help. Resentfully Jal and Coomy provide it but, when opportunity offers, they deliver Nariman into the care (and flat) of his daughter Roxana, the much-loved offspring of what was an otherwise loveless marriage. Roxana is married with two children and lives in cramped conditions that the arrival of the now bed-ridden old man makes worse. The tensions of the present and rankling discontents from the past collide as Mistry's narrative unfolds. At the heart of the story is the literal claustrophobia of the flat and the metaphorical claustrophobia of a family bound tightly together by the deeply ambivalent emotions of its members but Family Matters is not a limited or restricted novel.
Through the stories of Roxana's husband Yezad and her sons Murad and Jehangir, Mistry opens the book to lives outside the family. Characters like Yezad's ebullient employer Mr Kapur, the eager but incompetent handyman Edul Munshi, the violinist Daisy Ichhaporia and others provide a keen sense of the wider world of Bombay in which the family dramas are secretively played out. What best emerges from the novel is Mistry's compassionate sense of the frustrations, temptations and everyday sufferings life imposes on all his characters. All, in the end, resemble one another in the accommodations and compromises they are obliged to make. --Nick Rennison