Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 522
As the title suggests, Family Matters is a story about relationships. The central character in the book is Nariman Vakeel, an elderly Parsi widower. Nariman lives in a spacious flat in an apartment building in Bombay, along with his unmarried stepddaughter, Coomy Contractor, and his stepson Jal Contractor, who is also single. Nariman is a retired English professor, a kindly man whose students remember him with affection. However, because they blame him for their mother’s tragic death, Nariman’s stepchildren loathe him so much that even though he adopted them legally, they refuse to use his name, though they are perfectly willing to share his home.
As Nariman’s health fails and his memory becomes unreliable, Coomy avenges herself on him by systematically humiliating him. She forbids Nariman to take his usual walks around the neighborhood; she even puts him on a schedule for visiting the bathroom. Then he breaks his ankle, and Coomy and Jal dump him unceremoniously at the small, two-bedroom apartment where Nariman’s daughter, Roxana Chenoy, lives with her husband, Yezad, and their two sons, Murad and Jehangir. Supposedly, Nariman is to remain there only until his cast comes off. However, when Coomy deliberately damages the ceiling of his bedroom, it becomes obvious that she does not intend ever to let him return to his home.
By contrast, Roxana is always kind to her father. Though she may weep in private, she never lets him see how exhausted she is. Her sons love their grandfather and like having him near; nine-year-old Jehangir becomes his constant companion. However, Yezad resents having his household disrupted, and because Coomy and Jal are not there to take the blame, he lashes out at his wife and his sons. Moreover, Nariman’s presence soon pushes the family to the brink of financial disaster. The pittance Jal contributes to Nariman’s keep is not enough to feed the invalid properly, much less to buy his medicine. In desperation, Yezad decides his only option is to ensure his own promotion to store manager by persuading his high-principled employer, Vikram Kapur, to go into politics, as he has long threatened to do. Reasoning that an encounter with Hindu extremists will push Kapur into a decision, Yezad arranges an attack on his shop. However, the hoodlums murder Kapur, leaving Yezad unemployed and consumed by guilt.
In the end, Coomy is killed, and a repentant Jal not only takes his father-in-law back home but also persuades the Chenoys to move in with him. However, Mistry is too much of a realist ever to let compassion win a total victory. Whereas earlier in the novel he showed Parsis, a Punjabi, and a Muslim living together in harmony, in the epilogue to Family Matters Yezad has become so fanatical that he has turned against his best friend and is alienating his own family.
Sources for Further Study
The Atlantic Monthly 290 (September, 2002): 165.
Booklist 98 (July, 2002): 1797.
Kirkus Reviews 70 (July 1, 2002): 910.
The New York Times, September 24, 2002, p. E7.
The New York Times Book Review 107 (October 13, 2002): 7.
The New Yorker 78 (September 30, 2002): 140.
Publishers Weekly 249 (July 15, 2002): 51.
The Spectator 288 (March 30, 2002): 41.
Time International 159 (June 10, 2002): 59.
The Times Literary Supplement, April 19, 2002, p. 21.
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