Family Matters (novel)

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First edition cover

Family Matters is the third novel by Indian-born author Rohinton Mistry. It was first published by McClelland and Stewart in 2002.

The novel is set in the city of Mumbai, where Mistry was born and grew up, and tells the story of a middle-class Parsi family living through a domestic crisis. Through one family, Mistry conveys everything from the dilemmas among India's Parsis, Persian-descended Zoroastrians, to the wider concerns of corruption and communalism. Mistry writes in simple language, using a lot of dialogue.

Some of the action takes place in Chateau Felicity, a flat inhabited by a 79-year-old, Parkinson's-stricken Nariman, who is the decaying patriarch and a widower with a small, discordant family consisting of his two middle-aged step children: Coomy (bitter and domineering) and Jal (mild-mannered and subservient). When Nariman's sickness is compounded by a broken ankle, Coomy's harshness reaches its summit. She plots to turn his round-the-clock care over to Roxana, her sweet-tempered sister and Nariman's real daughter and that's where the problems start.

Roxana, who lives a contented life with Yezad and her two children (Murad and Jehangir) in a small flat at Pleasant Villa takes up the care of Nariman like a dutiful daughter, but the inclusion of a new member in an already stuffed house soon becomes evidently painful, both physically and emotionally for Roxana's family. As loathing for Nariman's sickness increases and finances of the already strained household go bust, inundated by the ever increasing financial worries, Yezad pushes himself into a scheme of deception involving Vikram Kapur (his eccentric and sometimes exasperating employer at Bombay Sporting Goods Emporium).

Two terrible incidents occur, which turn the plot and the lives of the characters topsy-turvy.

Plot summary[edit]

The book opens with Nariman's accident as a result of which he is bedridden. He suffers humiliation due to deterioration in his health and the grudging care (bedpans, sponge baths,etc.) of his two step-children especially Coomy his step-daughter who has never accepted him or any of his efforts to be a father. The poor man is entirely at their mercy and they are uncomfortable with the burden of caring for him. Coomy in a fit of inspiration born of a desperate desire to not suffer this burden any longer creates with Jal's grudging assistance the perfect reason as to why they can no longer nurse him. In this way, they shift the burden on to their younger sister Roxana who is married with two young sons. She lives in a tiny apartment with less than half the space as that of the flat that Coomy and Jal share.

Roxana is fond of her father but her household's resources are stretched to the limit with the cost of nursing him. Her older son and her husband resent the instrusion. Her younger son assists her as much as he can. He and his mother are the only ones who help Nariman keep his humanity. As Yezad comes to centre stage for the following part of the book, the author explores the problems faced by an average middle-class family. Financial problems lure him and Jehangir towards greed and money.

The subplot of the book, which involves Yezad hatching a plan to cheat his employer of a large sum in order to meet his growing expenses by making up a Shiv Sainik threat. This subplot acts as the turning point in the main story. The book contains many details of the Parsis' practices, rituals, intolerances, and the concerns of native Parsis.

In the epilogue, the youngest of all characters, Jehangir, becomes the narrator, describing the metamorphosis that religion, age, death, and wealth bring to his family. Coomy is now dead. Roxanna's family now lives with Jal. A full time nurse has been hired for Nariman and Roxanna feels guilty about it since her father now has bedsores - a sign of lack of care. Yezad has undergone a sea change - from an atheist to a fanatic.

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