Such a Long Journey by Rohinton Mistry

suchalongjourneySuch a Long Journey was my first experience of Rohinton Mistry’s work. I usually enjoy novels set in India and this was no exception.

It concerns Gustad Noble. The surname is significant for this is a fairly ordinary guy who tries to do the decent thing by his family and an old friend and ends up embroiled in a political scandal.

As the book opens Noble is working as a bank clerk and trying to deal with the problems posed by his offspring. His daughter Roshan has a mysterious illness and his son Sohrab has won a college scholarship to just about the best university India can offer but, to his parent’s dismay, refuses to accept it. Such problems pale into insignificance however when Gustad receives a letter from his old friend Major Bilimoria. The major works for Indira Ghandi’s secret police and asks Gustad for some help by collecting and depositing large sums of money into an account in a false name at the bank where he works. Scandal erupts when Bilimora is arrested under suspicion he was using the money to aid guerrillas in East Pakistan.

The experience shakes Gustad’s faith in his friend and opens his eyes to political corruption in the highest echelons of government. Gustav survives although around him the country is in turmoil when the war with Bangladesh escalates.

Such a Long Journey is a finely textured look at what happens to an honest, modest guy gets compromised by events he doesn’t understand. Mistry takes us into the heart of Mumbai with its noise and poverty and into the heart of one corner of the city, the apartments of Khodadad where Nobel and his family lives. This is 1971 and a time of upheaval in the country but in the community of Khodadad, the difficulties are of a more domestic nature, sometimes uncomfortable in nature (especially when they taunt and tease Tehmul, who is a physically and mentally disabled man with the character of a boy) but often with gentle humour (the scenes where Gustad brings home a live chicken to feed his family are hilarious).

This is a novel populated with real people, they bicker with their neighbours, they hide long term illness beneath a veneer of bravado and resort to magical potions and rituals. But just like Gustad Noble they are simply trying to do their best for their family and their friends and to negotiate the difficult world around them.

 

 

Such a Long Journey is, in short, a wonderful novel. I’ve seen comments that it’s not as good as A Fine Balance which is magic to my ears since I also have that on my shelves to read.

About BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

Posted on January 5, 2016, in India, world literature and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.

  1. This sounds wonderful. A fine Balance made my top ten that I read last year. It was truly fantastic.

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  2. A Fine Balance is one of my favourite reads of all time. Seriously long but absolutely fabulous and you don’t feel the pages turning. I have Such a Long Journey on my shelves, so will now dust it down with joy.

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  3. We read ‘Such a Long Journey’ two or three years ago at Summer School when one of our members was a woman whose husband came from that community. We had some fascinating discussions and she spoke of just how accurate a portrait Mistry had drawn. I wish he had written more novels because I love his work. ‘A Fine Balance’ is even better than this one, and so, I think is ‘Family Matters’, which touches on a subject which is relevant to every community even though it is worked out specifically in India.

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    • that would have been a fascinating discussion. There was so much I wanted to learn about – all those gods and goddesses that were painted on the wall as a shrine for example are totally unknown to me. I get as far as Ganesh and Shriva but thats about it

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  4. I have read A Fine Balance, but not any of his others. So, it’s good to hear that Such A Long Journey is also good. I rarely hear about his other books.

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  5. I’ve never read anything by this author–although I’ve picked up and put down several titles in the bookshop

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  6. I have loved everything by Rohinton Mistry, A Fine Balance is a huge wonderful extraordinary novel.

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    • I read it on a flight to India and spent the first hour or so making notes of all the terms I wanted my colleagues in India to explain. I could have guessed some of them but it was much more fun to turn up at meetings and have them explain it to me.

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  7. I’ve read Mistry’s first three novels and posted my reviews of them on my blog last year. As you note, saying ‘A Fine Balance’ is a better novel is a common thing to hear, but it is definitely true. It’s funny but, while I read plenty of Indian novels, my parents, who have just visited for Christmas, tell me that my reviews of them are typically Western – of someone who did not grow up or ever live in India. They have read Mistry and feel that some aspects of his novels don’t ring true or feel authentic. I think there is definitely a gap between these novelists who are lauded in the West yet don’t get the same praise in India. The authors blame the Indian criticism on the fact their novels have political aspects to them, but I’m not sure that explains all of the gap. I’m also not sure of how many Western readers even notice that gap.

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    • Now you’ve alerted me to the differing attitude I shall have to ask my work colleague in India. I think Ive heard similar comments about other Indian authors who left the country at a fairly early age.

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  8. I am fascinated! Thanks for introducing me to this book and author! More for the TBR listing! 🙂

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  9. Your post has given me the nudge I needed to read some more Rohinton Mistry. I was profoundly moved by ‘A Fine Balance’, so I’ll definitely be including a Mistry novel in my 2016 TBR pile!

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  10. Mistry is one of my favorite writers. Always has been.
    This has also been made into a really good movie, way back in the 1990s i think.

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