Mistry Takes the Oprah Prize
By Sushmit Sen
Mistry is the first Canadian and only the
second non-U.S. author to have his work selected for Oprah's Book Club.
Born in Bombay in 1952, Rohinton Mistry immigrated to Canada in 1975 and was employed in a Toronto bank. He began writing stories in 1983 while attending the University of Toronto.
Rohinton Mistry's first novel, Such a Long Journey, creates a vivid picture of Indian family life and culture as well as tells a story rich in subject matter, characterization and symbolism. It is set in 1971 Bombay, when India went to war over what was later to become Bangladesh. Mistry skillfully parallels public events involving Indira Gandhi with the misfortunes of the novel's principal characters.
Such a Long Journey was published in 1991, it won the Governor
General's Award, the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book, and the
W.H. Smith/Books in Canada First Novel Award. It was short listed for the
prestigious Booker Prize, and for the Trillium Award. It has been
translated into German, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish and Japanese. Such a
Long Journey was made into a movie in 2000, starring Om Puri and
of the prizes has given him the kind of public exposure he received from
Oprah Winfrey. Sales of his novel A Fine Balance, published in
Canada six years ago, took off immediately and in the third week of
January it was No.6 on the New York Times paperback bestseller list.
is a near-mythic figure in the U.S. book trade, and her every wish is
publishers' command. Her show is watched by an average daily audience of
26 million in the U.S. and by an average of 505,000 a minute in Canada,
where numbers are measured differently. Over the course of a year she is
responsible for the sale of an estimated 12 million books, totalling $160
reads widely and personally chooses the novels she likes — usually books
about struggling, disadvantaged people from diverse backgrounds who
somehow triumph over circumstances. A Fine Balance is the story of
two Untouchable tailors, an impoverished widow and her nephew, who
overcome caste differences and are welded into an accidental family during
the bloody regime of Indira Gandhi.
flew to Mumbai (Bombay) in December, trailed by Winfrey's camera crew, to
evoke the atmosphere of the setting for the book. And then in January, he
was in Chicago to tape a dinner discussion of A Fine Balance with
Winfrey and four others on a set made to look like the host's library.
said Oprah was wonderful and was impressed by the warmth of the
occasion," says his agent Bruce Westwood, who plans to watch the show
with Mistry and his wife today. Mistry did not appear on the live
stardust has fallen on 43 other writers from the time she started her book
club in September 1996. Toni Morrison, who has twice been among the chosen
(for Paradise and Song Of Solomon), has said the experience
is "not just a revolution, it's an upheaval."
Mistry lives with his wife in Toronto. His new novel Family Matters, will be released by Knopf in 2002.
About the Book - A Fine Balance
With a compassionate realism and narrative sweep that recalls masters from
Balzac to Dickens, this novel captures all the cruelty and corruption,
dignity and heroism of India. Set in 1975 at a time when the government
has declared a state of internal emergency, the story focuses on the lives
of four unlikely people who find themselves living in the same humble flat
in the city.