is a contemporary 2002 novel by Indian-born Canadian writer Rohinton Mistry. Mistry tells the story of the personal struggles of a Parsi family living in Mumbai, India. Through the lives of this family, Mistry also explores the larger issues that Parsi people face. Parsis are part of a Zoroastrian community that settled in India from modern-day Iran sometime around the 10th century. Mistry is from the Parsi community himself, and was forced to cancel his book tour in the United States after he and his wife became a target for the TSA at American airports.
The plot centers around Nariman Vakeel and his family. Nariman lives with his stepchildren, Jal and Coomy, in an apartment inside Chateau Felicity. His wife, Yasmin, has died some years before. Nariman’s daughter, Roxana, is married and lives with her husband Yezad and their children, Murad and Jehangir.
Nariman is about to celebrate his 79th birthday, and his stepdaughter Coomy is planning a party for him. Nariman heads out for his evening walk, despite Coomy’s concerns that he might fall. He has been displaying some early signs of Parkinson’s disease, and she fears his balance and coordination are at risk. He comes home after falling in a ditch, a little bruised but otherwise fine. Coomy tries to get him to agree to stop going on his nightly walks, but he refuses.
After the party, Nariman goes on another walk and suffers another fall, this time breaking his ankle. Jal and Coomy rush him to the Parsi General Hospital. The doctor, Tarapore, sets his ankle and puts it in a cast. A few days later, Nariman is able to return to the apartment. Coomy gets him a portable commode for his bedroom, but he has trouble using it because he’s having difficulty moving around. Coomy replaces the commode with a bedpan and urinal, but Nariman is still struggling.
Coomy is frustrated with having to clean up after her stepfather and begins to complain loudly and often. Both stepchildren have long seen Nariman as little more than a burden. Coomy, in particular, resents him for the way he treated their mother, and now there is an excuse to be rid of him. They are actually the apartment’s owners: they have talked Nariman into signing it over to them, a move he later likens to King Lear dividing his kingdom among his two ungrateful daughters. Finally, Coomy tells Jal they need to bring him to Roxana so she can take care of him instead.
Nariman doesn’t want to leave his home, but he agrees to go to Roxana’s if his stepchildren get her permission. But Coomy and Jal haven’t even told Roxana about Nariman’s broken ankle yet, and they aren’t interested in her permission. They take Nariman to his daughter’s house anyway, where Roxana has no choice but to take him in.
Roxana’s own apartment is cramped already with her husband and two sons, but they assume that Nariman will only need to stay for three weeks, so they make concessions. Yezad and Murad are not pleased, but Jehangir is happy to help take care of Nariman. Nariman has troubled dreams of his first love, a non-Parsi woman named Lucy. His family forbade him to marry outside his religion, and so rather than go against their wishes he married a suitable Parsi widow, Yasmin, whom he did not love.
Money becomes tight for Roxana’s family after Nariman moves in. Yezad turns to participation in an illegal lottery in the hopes of getting extra cash, but loses money instead. Hope comes when Yezad’s boss at the Bombay Sporting Goods Emporium contemplates running for office, which would mean more responsibility and higher pay for Yezad down the road. However, Yezad’s boss decides not to run when his wife objects to his ambitions.
Desperate, Yezad hatches a scheme to con his boss out of a large amount of money by falsely reporting a threat from Shiv Sainik, a far-right Indian political party, but the plan is botched and Yezad’s boss is killed. Then, his widow shuts down the emporium, leaving Yezad unemployed.
Coomy does not want Nariman returned to the apartment in Chateau Felicity and decides to sabotage the place so he can’t live in it. She knocks out the plaster ceilings and makes up a story about damage from a flood. However, when Coomy and a helpful neighbor work to repair the ceiling, her scheme turns on her when a ceiling beam slides off its supports, killing both Coomy and her neighbor.
After Coomy dies, a guilt-stricken Jal offers to let Roxana and her family move in at the Chateau Felicity apartment. At last, Nariman is able to return to his home.
The story concludes in an epilogue that takes place five years later. Nariman is still confined to his bed; his ankle has healed long ago, but his Parkinson’s disease is now advanced. He is unable to care for himself, and Roxana has hired a full-time nurse for him, though she feels guilty for not being his full-time caretaker herself. Yezad has found religion; he once was not a religious man but is now a Zoroastrian. He forbids Murad from dating a non-Parsi woman, just as Nariman was once forbidden to do the same.
The book received mixed reviews, with the Guardian
noting its “odd” ending that the reviewer speculates might have benefited from additional revision, while Publisher’s Weekly
described the narrative as “warm, tender, and bittersweet.” Family Matters
was nonetheless shortlisted for that year’s Man Booker Prize, James Tait Black Memorial Prize, and Neustadt International Prize for Literature. Mistry later returned to writing about Parsi culture and religion in 2008 with the short story “The Scream.”