Family Matters

Family Matters

Book - 2002
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Random House, Inc.
1. The family’s story springs from Nariman’s marriage to the widowed mother of Coomy and Jal. We’re told, “And he, when he looked back on it all, across the wasteland of their lives, despaired at how he could have been so feeble-minded, so spineless, to have allowed it to happen” (p. 10). He also blames his parents and their friends, “the wilful manufacturers of misery” (p.76). Why did Nariman give in, after his eleven-year love affair with Lucy, to his parents’ demand that he marry a Parsi woman? He was forty-two years old at the time. Was his decision an act of weakness? 2. When the medical assistant setting plaster on his broken ankle says to Nariman, “we need a Mahatma these days,” Nariman retorts, “All we get instead are micro-mini atmas” (p. 47). What is the novel’s perspective on the state of India’s politics, compared with the idealism of Mahatma Gandhi? Is Nariman a cynic, a wit, or simply a realist at this stage of his experience? 3. Nariman’s memories of the past, including his love affair with Lucy, are presented in italics at intervals throughout the novel. What is the effect of Mistry’s revealing the family’s tragic history in this intermittent way? How central is the theme of memory to Family Matters ? 4. Yezad’s friend Vilas writes letters for illiterate workers in Bombay. How does his presence in the novel illuminate the lives of those less privileged, and even more unfortunate, than the Chenoy and Vakeel families? 5. Most of the novel’s events take place in two apartments. What perspective do the names of these buildings—Chateau Felicity and Pleasant Villas—cast on the lives lived within them? How are these dwellings described? Coomy asserts that Roxana’s flat, though only two rooms is “huge” by Bombay standards: “You know that in chawls and colonies, families of eight, nine, ten live in one room” (see p. 75). Why is it important to our comprehension of Bombay life that we understand just how little space people are living in? 6. Does Coomy force the care of Nariman onto Roxana as an act of revenge? Is it understandable that, given her loyalty to her mother’s memory, Coomy would resent having to tend her ailing stepfather? Why are the circumstances of Coomy’s death particularly ironic? 7. In Family Matters, several characters take steps to alleviate their difficulties. Yezad tries to bring in more money through gambling, and he also makes efforts to change Mr. Kapur’s mind about running for office so that he himself will be promoted. Jehangir, as homework monitor, accepts bribes. Coomy and Jal try to delay their stepfather’s return by destroying the ceiling of their apartment. Why do these characters’ strenuous efforts to arrange the events of their lives come to grief? Does Mistry suggest that fate—rather than desire or will—rules human lives? 8. Why is Roxana so moved by the sight of Jehangir feeding his grandfather, a moment she perceives as “something almost sacred” (p. 98)? Of all the characters in the story, Roxana is the one who understands most fully the weighty responsibilities that come with loving one’s family. How does this understanding impinge upon her happiness? Is she too self-sacrificing? 9. How seriously are we to take the ideas of Mr. Kapur, Yezad’s employer? Are we to assume that he would not have made a successful politician? Is Mistry using him to represent the best of India’s secular and pluralist ideals? What is the meaning of his murder? What sort of person is his widow? 10. Mr. Kapur tells Yezad, “Everyone underestimates their own life. Funny thing is, in the end, all our stories—your life, my life, old Husain’s life, they’re the same. In fact, no matter where you go in the world, there is only one important story: of youth, and loss, and yearning for redemption. So we tell the same story, over and over. Just the details are different” (p. 197). How does Kapur’s insight address the need for empathy, a theme that is underscored at various times throughout the novel? 11. What place does the Hindu extremist party Shiv Sena have in the novel’s political background? Should Yezad feel partly responsible for the death of Mr. Kapur? How does Mistry use the murder and its aftermath to reflect the complexity and danger of life in contemporary Bombay? 12. Yezad’s return to religion is presented in terms of timelessness, peace and comfort; he perceives his Zoroastrianism as “encoded in blood and bone” (p. 297) Yet the novel makes readers all too aware of the destructive aspects of religious belief as well. How does Yezad’s spiritual life change as the novel proceeds? What effect does his embrace of orthodoxy have on his family? How does the description of Yezad five years later (p. 403), point to what has become most important for him? 13. The Parsis, followers of an ancient Persian religion, were in colonial days an influential and highly respected minority in India. Family Matters addresses the dwindling of their cultural dominance despite the efforts of people like Nariman’s father who refuse to let their children intermarry. How does Mistry express his ambivalence about the Parsis? What are the positive and negative aspects of their tradition and their exclusivity? 14. Mistry’s descriptions of Nariman’s faltering mind and body are sobering, not least for the impact his failing health has on those around him. Coomy and Jal “were bewildered, and indignant, that a human creature of blood and bone, so efficient in good health, could suddenly become so messy.… Sometimes they took it personally, as though their stepfather had reduced himself to this state to harass them” (p. 68). Roxana, on the other hand, quotes Gandhi’s injunction “that there was nothing nobler than the service of the weak, the old, the unfortunate” (p. 248). How do such realizations about loving service, as well as the awareness of mortality, affect the ethical thinking of Mistry’s characters? 15. The novel’s epilogue is presented by Jehangir, now fourteen. Why has Mistry chosen to make Jehangir a central consciousness in the novel? What are we to make of Jehangir’s final words? 16. Mistry’s realism and his broad social canvas reflect the influence nineteenth-century fiction. How is his approach like or unlike other novels you may have read that address the conditions of a society through one family?
The introduction, discussion questions, suggested reading list and author biography that follow are designed to enhance your group’s reading of Rohinston Mistry’s eagerly anticipated and hugely ambitious third novel, Family Matters .

Baker & Taylor
In mid-1990s Bombay, India, Nariman Vakeel, the patriarch of a small discordant family, lives in a crumbling apartment with his two middle-aged stepchildren--the mild-mannered Jal and his bitter, domineering sister, Coomy, who plots to turn over the round-the-clock care of her stepfather to her sweet-tempered younger sister, Roxana. 75,000 first printing.

Blackwell North Amer
The setting is Bombay, mid-1990s. Nariman Vakeel, suffering from Parkinson's disease, is the elderly patriarch of a small, discordant family. In a building called Chateau Felicity, he and his two middle-aged stepchildren - Coomy, bitter and domineering, and her just-younger brother, Jal, mild mannered and acquiescent - occupy a once-elegant apartment whose ruin is progressing as rapidly as Nariman's disease. Coomy has "rules to govern every aspect of [Nariman's] shrunken life," but even she cannot keep him from his evening walks. When he stumbles and breaks an ankle (fulfilling one of Coomy's nagging prophecies), she has hardly said "I told you so" before she is plotting to turn his round-the-clock care over to her younger, sweet-tempered half sister. Roxana, her husband, and their two sons live in an already overcrowded apartment, but Coomy knows that Roxana will not refuse her. What Coomy cannot know is that she has set in motion a great unraveling (and an unexpected repair) of the family - and a revelation of its deeply love-torn past.

Baker
& Taylor

In mid-1990s Bombay, Nariman Vakeel lives in a crumbling apartment with his two middle-aged stepchildren--the mild-mannered Jal and his domineering sister, Coomy, who plots to turn over the care of her stepfather to her younger sister, Roxana.

Publisher: New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2002
Edition: First U.S. edition
ISBN: 9780375403736
0375403736
Branch Call Number: FIC Mistry, R 2002
Characteristics: 431 pages ; 25 cm

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NanCcan
Nov 17, 2016

I managed to get through it, but it is not an easy read simply because most of the characters are so self-absorbed and constantly quarrelling, doing devious things, and seeming to not care about others feelings. Perhaps this is a portrait of how life really was in this time and place, but I hope not. There are a few characters who know how to empathize and be generous.

g
GLNovak
Apr 23, 2016

I loved this book. Mistry is a wonderful writer, for his storyline, his characters, the scene-setting observations and language, and the weaving of all of this to make an engaging and compelling whole. There is so much in here, all of it learned as we read about Nariman, his two step-children, his daughter and son-in-law, and his two grandsons. Family knows no boundaries; it is the same worldwide with the same issues to deal with. An invalid parent needs care, but who provides it, and why, and how. Decisions are made with sometimes disasterous consequences. I, as a reader, became more and more drawn in to the son-in-law's story, and more baffled as to his choices. Great story that stays with you past the last page.

h
hankremmers
Oct 29, 2014

Not finished

Veeka18 May 18, 2012

This book made me take a look at my life and the way I treat my parents. I'm glad I read it.

g
grugster
Apr 15, 2011

A sensitive, insightful and often funny portrayal of family politics and so much more. A wise and enjoyable book.

s
sowdev
May 10, 2010

good protrayal of the main character and the family

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FavouriteFiction Oct 14, 2009

A seventy-nine-year-old man struggles to be independent from his overprotective step-children as he relives his past relationships and contemplates the overwhelming influences family can have on individual lives.

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