I eagerly anticipated this read after reading A Fine Balance two years ago. Mistry is an incredibly good storyteller and Family Matters reaffirms that fact. The title of the book works in two ways. It affirms the criticality of the family unit, on one hand, while it delves into matters of a particular family, on another hand. Either way, the title of the book does justice to its content and plot.
Family Matters explores the changes and disruptions in a Parsi extended family that is trying to keep up in the city of Mumbai (then recently changed from Bombay). The disruptions are caused by the claustrophobic living conditions occasioned by an overpopulated city on one hand and the living conditions of most of the characters in the book. The changes are due to the failing health of a retired professor of literature, Nariman Vakeel. At 79 years, he breaks his ankle and coupled with his fast-deteriorating Parkinson disease, he needs extensive home care. These health issues demand extensive changes to his extended family; his unmarried middle-aged step-children, Jal and Coomy, his daughter, Roxana and her husband, Yezad and their two pre-teen sons, Murad and Jehangir.
Family Matters is an exploration that focuses on the domestic crisis of Nariman Vakeel’s extended family. The beauty of it is that every voice is heard, everyone’s crisis is fully pulsated and the readers are drawn into each of the protagonists. Be it the repercussion of Vakeel’s arranged marriage and his lingering devotion to his long-dead lover Lucy (a non-Parsi who his parents forbade him from marrying), Yezad’s crisis of conscience either when playing Matka or contemplating to help himself to his employer’s cash that is in his custody or Jehangir’s bribe-taking while performing his duties as a class captain in class. In economic and unobstructive prose, the reader gets drawn into the struggles of daily living that this family of three generations contends with, and all within the context of Bombay which is bursting at its seams with population explosion, dilapidating infrastructure and religious fundamentalism. Through the three generations of this family, we explore their failings, their hypocrisy, forgiveness and constant attempts to remain a family despite the constant bickering. Mistry is an excellent storyteller and in his pen, ordinary everyday domestic matters soar into an epic novel.