It's one of those books that has drifted around the edges of my consciousness largely because of that beguiling cover picture with the little boy doing the rope trick, but had made it no further until it was urged onto my reading pile by our Canadian visitors this summer.
Set largely in Mumbai, from Partition through to a period of political turmoil in the 1970s, and such a beautifully and cleverly structured book, with a narrative that works its way forward and then back a few steps, forward and then back a bit further as each character is placed in the spotlight and their story revealed. Snippets of information like the pieces in a jigsaw left scattered around to be scooped up and eventually slotted into their rightful place as the novel develops.
Nothing more to add yet except to say that I though I am only halfway through, I can't possibly see how it can go pear-shaped and will be making it last several weeks more because I know I will be bereft when it ends. Interesting to see this novel won the Canadian Giller Prize in 1995 and was shortlisted for the Booker in 1996, losing out to eventual winner Graham Swift's Last Orders. A year when I was on prize-list respite but had I been paying attention I would have been filled with enthusiasm for a shortlist that also contained Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood, Every Man For Himself by Beryl Bainbridge, Reading in the Dark by Seamus Deane and The Orchard on Fire by Shena McKay, strong contenders all.
I'll let you guess which book I liked the least.
But there's nothing like a book to pique my interest in a country and make me want to read more, so I scoured the shelves for some more reading on and around India. I picked up A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth but reluctantly put it back (War & Peace feels like enough of a chunkster for now) but did pull out Manil Suri's The Death of Vishnu having enjoyed The Age of Shiva very much a while back. Then I came across J.G.Farrell's The Seige of Krishnapur which someone recommended to me years ago, any more suggestions most welcome.
I was then coincidentally contacted by Indian-based publisher Tara Books so was in a state of readiness for all things Indian sub-continent.
It would seem that the smaller publishers (thinking about Peirene Press in recent months) are targeting the blogosphere for their publicity, so I'm aware that there may now be a flurry of Tara Books posts around. That is often sufficient to make me shelve a book and bring it out when the dust has settled a little, overkill can sometimes work against the best of intentions but I would hate that to happen here, because Tara Books does feel a little different.
Based in Chennai, India; a collective owned by the people who run it, unashamedly proud of their feminist guiding principles and with large numbers of the books made by hand. Paper made from a mixture of cotton cloth waste and tree bark, rice husk or grass, with each page of the book screen printed or letter pressed.
The catalogue itself beautifully designed and screen printed and a growing list that reveals an eclectic mix of visual art, photography, art and folklore traditions as well as fiction.
Interestingly in amongst I spot a hand-made copy of Antigone, a title to which all my antennae now wander, this being one of the first set books on the forthcoming Open University English Literature MA, still very much in my sights to embark on this October, especially now the course material has arrived. I'll update you soon on the strange mix of sheer terror overlaid with swathes of self-doubt and indecision and coupled with inexplicable excitement at the thought of new learning, all induced in about ten seconds by the sight of that box in the postman's hand.
Tara Books have very kindly been sent me a copy of Daisy Hasan's novel The To-Let House and though not hand made, very nicely produced...what is the allure of the French flap? I love them and with the novel's setting in north-east India; a coming of age story framed by the region's own violent search for identity, this will be the perfect companion read to A Fine Balance.
So my grateful thanks to Tara Books, who I know have to think very carefully before they send out free copies of their books, I just wanted you to know I'll get there eventually, blame Rohinton Mistry and his 614 pages.