This is a compelling novel. Mistry focuses the story around the lives and interactions of four main characters, who cross paths in an unnamed city in India in 1975 during the State of Emergency. Mistry is unsparing in details of how difficult, even cruel, life is for these characters. Their opportunities are constrained by caste, gender, government corruption locally and across the country, and greed. In detailed flashbacks, Mistry describes the pasts of the characters with such humanity that it's impossible not to identify with them in some way.
This is a fast read, in part because of how beautifully drawn the characters are, and in part because you want to read on quickly to discover how the characters will handle the challenges life throws at them. It's a disturbing read as well, because Mistry provides clear descriptions of the violence, greed, and lack of compassion each character faces. At the same time, though, the novel is filled with countless examples of ways, large and small, that the man characters and others help each other, with the most generous sometimes being the characters with the least power and resources. In the end, I came away with the message that, even in the face of prejudice, greed, and hatred, people can survive hardships through loving ties with others.