For Family Matters, Rohinton Mistry puts his own spin on Tolstoy's maxim that "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." The result is a thoroughly absorbing tale about matters of family, told with wise, gentle humour. In the early 1990s, Hindu fundamentalists, the Shiv Sena, razed the Babri mosque, a Muslim holy site in the Indian city of Ayodhya. This incident and the bloody inter-religious strife it precipitated form the novel's political background, which encroaches on the realm of personal ethics with dire and unforeseen consequences.
Family Matters, which follows upon Mistry's much lauded novels, Such a Long Journey and A Fine Balance, is a modern take on King Lear set in the roiling multicultural bustle of Bombay. Mistry's Lear is Nariman Vakeel, an elderly widower of the Parsi minority, who lives with his two middle-aged stepchildren, the embittered Coomy and her decent but spineless sister, Jal. When Nariman breaks his leg, Coomy and Jal conspire to off-load him onto their younger half-sister, the good-hearted Roxana, whose family is barely making ends meet as it is.
Mistry engages all the family members in the telling of his saga. Entering the interior world of each character, he presents a richly textured portrait of how a family copes or fails to cope with the messes and smells of an infirm member, about the friable brink of poverty that can leave one vulnerable to the seduction of the quick fix, about the corruptive power of bitterness, about how room can always be made in the human heart. A less compelling subplot involving Roxana's husband Yezad aside, the undeniable fulcrum of both the family and the narrative remains the charismatic and wise patriarch, Nariman. Tortured by regret, haunted by memories that, despite the decrepitude of his body, will not be repressed, he will surely leave an indelible mark on readers of this novel about how family truly does matter. --Diana Kuprel