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Athabasca University

Rohinton Mistry

Rohinton Mistry was born in Bombay (now Mumbai), India, on July 3, 1952. A member of the Parsi religious community in India, he completed an undergraduate degree in mathematics and economics at the University of Bombay. In 1975 he moved to Canada, where he lived in Toronto and worked for a bank. Mistry eventually returned to university, finishing a degree in English and philosophy in 1984 at the University of Toronto. It was while he was a university student in Canada that he began to write and publish fiction. His first two published short stories won the Hart House Literary Prize (1983 and 1984), and another story won the Canadian Fiction Magazine contributor’s prize in 1985. Those three stories, with eight others, became his first book, Tales from Firoszha Baag (1987). This collection of linked short stories concerns the inhabitants of an apartment compound in Bombay. One of the stories, "Squatter," consists of tall tales told by the compound’s local storyteller; one tale concerns Savukshaw, a heroic cricket player and tiger hunter, and the other concerns Sarosh, a Parsi who immigrates to Canada but returns to India when he cannot learn how to use a Western toilet. In another story, "Swimming Lessons," a young man connects the residents of his Canadian apartment to the family and residents in the Bombay apartment he has left behind.

Mistry’s first novel, Such a Long Journey (1991), brought him national and international recognition. The book concerns an ordinary man who becomes involved in the politics surrounding the Bangladesh separatist movement in India and Pakistan. In Canada the book won the Governor General’s Award for Fiction and the W.H. Smith Books in Canada First Novel Award. It also won the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book and was a finalist for Britain’s Booker Prize. In 1998 Such a Long Journey was made into a feature film by Sooni Tarapoevala (screenplay) and Sturla Gunnarsson (director).

Mistry’s subsequent novels have achieved the same level of recognition as his first. His second novel, A Fine Balance (1995), concerns four people from Bombay who struggle with family and work against the backdrop of the political unrest in India during the mid-1970s. The book won Canada’s Giller Prize, the Commonwealth Writers Award, and the Los Angeles Times Book Award. It was nominated for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and was a finalist for the Booker Prize.

Family Matters (2002) won the Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize for Fiction, the Canadian Authors Association’s MOSAID Technologies Inc. Award for Fiction, and the regional Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book; it was nominated for the Booker Prize and shortlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Family Matters describes the members of a blended family who are trying to cope with the failing health of their father. In the meantime, the father relives his past, a past beset by thwarted love and crushing social strictures.

Mistry’s fiction deploys a precise writing style and a sensitivity to the humour and horror of life to communicate deep compassion for human beings. His writing concerns people who try to find self-worth while dealing with painful family dynamics and difficult social and political constraints. His work also addresses immigration, especially immigration to Canada, and the difficulty immigrants face in a society that recognizes their cultural differences and yet cannot embrace those differences as being part of itself. (Vivian Zenari)

Updated February 12 2015 by Student & Academic Services

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