Rohinton Mistry is an Indian-born author, whose best-known works include the novel A Fine Balance and the short story Swimming Lessons, which has appeared in a number of collections. He was the 2012 recipient of the prestigious Neustadt International Prize for Literature.
Early Life and Education
Mistry was born in Bombay (now Mumbai), India in 1952, into a family that was part of the community of Bombay Parsis, a minority ethnic group originating from Iran, who practiced the Zoroastrian religion. He grew up in a typical Indian middle-class household; his father was an advertising executive and his mother worked inside the home. Mistry attended a Jesuit high school in Bombay and received a traditional British-style secondary education. He earned an undergraduate degree in Mathematics and Economics from the University of Bombay, where he studied alongside his future wife, Freny Elevy. Mistry then decided to emigrate with her to Canada in 1975 to seek further education and opportunities. He continued his education at the University of Toronto in English and Philosophy. Mistry's early life in both India and Canada, as well as his experience of immigration, forms the backdrop for much of his fiction.
Writing and Themes
Mistry first began to publish short fiction in the early 1980s. Many of these stories were collected into a volume called Tales from Firoszha Baag (1987), about the inhabitants of a Parsi apartment complex in Bombay. The often humorous glimpse into the daily lives and struggles of characters from all walks of life includes the well-known story Swimming Lessons, in which a Parsi Indian immigrant in Toronto grapples with culture shock and racism through writing stories for his distant family. His first novel, Such a Long Journey (1991) (later made into a film of the same title), depicts an ordinary Bombay clerk and family man drawn into the extraordinary political events surrounding the Bangladesh separatist movement.
The second and perhaps most widely-read of Mistry's three novels, A Fine Balance (1995), is again set in 1970s coastal India during a period of social and political unrest. An unlikely band of characters, including a widow, a young student, and a pair of tailors wind up sharing an apartment and struggling through poverty, corruption, violence, and uncertainty. His third novel Family Matters (2002) is about a family with an ill father who is reliving his past. Overall, Mistry's work is known for its often humorous, nostalgic description of Indian daily life, his exploration of the ties and responsibilities of family and friendship, and his critical approach to social issues for immigrants, such as racism and cultural dissonance.
Mistry's work has been compared to that of other so-called Indo-nostalgic writers, English-language authors of Indian origin, dispersed from their homeland, who portray the complexities of the India of their early life. These writers include V. S. Naipaul, Kiran Desai, Jhumpa Lahiri, Agha Shahid Ali, and Salman Rushdie.
Prizes and Critical Acclaim
Mistry's writing has received extensive critical acclaim. Early on, his short stories were awarded two Hart House Prizes at the University of Toronto. Mistry's writing has won the Governor General's Award, the Commonwealth Writer's Prize for Best Book, and the W.H. Smith/Books in Canada First Novel Award. He is the only author who has had all of his novels short-listed for the prestigious Man Booker Prize. In 2012, he was named a laureate of the Neustadt International Prize for Literature for the body of his work.
Rohinton Mistry is a well-known Indian-born writer of English fiction. He comes from and often writes about the Bombay Parsi community, an ethnic group originating from Iran, who practiced the Zoroastrian religion. His collection of short stories and three novels have received wide critical acclaim, and deal with themes concerning daily life and family, set against a backdrop of political upheaval in India and the immigrant experience. He is work is often labeled Indo-nostalgic, a rich and at times humorous portrayal of Indian life in fiction by Indian-born authors.
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