6.03.2012

Review: A Small Fortune, by Rosie Dastgir

A Small Fortune
by Rosie Dastgir
Riverhead Books
May 24, 2012
384 pgs
Harris, a devout Muslim with an extended family that crosses Britain and Pakistan, has just received his final divorce settlement check from his ex-wife, a snappish English woman with whom he fathered a daughter who now attends university. Called on from all corners of his family to provide financial assistance, Harris rashly doles out this small fortune to the least deserving of his cousins. What follows is a trickling down of his unfortunate mistake, a landslide that pulls on the dual strings of religious obligation and familial duty. Only when Harris' daughter and her cousin step in, in very different ways, can the tide of misfortune turn.

With a cunning talent for pitting the generations against one another, Dastgir tells a story that is both classic in its roots and fervently modern in its portrayal of a Pakistani family at odds with itself and its surroundings. And while the sympathy and understanding seem to lie most with the younger generation, it is the elders of the family that appear to have the most endurance in the face of all that comes at them.

But what is special Ms. Dastgir's novel is her classical emphasis on one small event (or even a small fortune, as it were) rippling out into a murderous tide; as with the real things, the calm will only come after the worst has passed. For Harris' family, no resolution will be simple but, like any story rooted in Greek tragedy, everyone will have a lesson to learned. This is a very smart novel with multiple but clear perspectives, one that has a sort of shyness to it; Dastgir does not grandstand, she merely seeks to inform, and she does so with a heartbreaking kind of clarity that would otherwise elude any and all of her characters.

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