From the Toronto-based Mistry (Such a Long Journey, 1991), a splendid tale of contemporary India that, in chronicling the sufferings of outcasts and innocents trying to survive in the ``State of Internal Emergency'' of the 1970s, grapples with the great question of how to live in the face of death and despair. Though Mistry is too fine a writer to indulge in polemics, this second novel is also a quietly passionate indictment of a corrupt and ineluctably cruel society. India under Indira Gandhi has become a country ruled by thugs who maim and kill for money and power. The four protagonists (all victims of the times) are: Dina, 40-ish, poor and widowed after only three years of marriage; Maneck, the son of an old school friend of Dina's; and two tailors, Ishvar and his nephew Om, members of the Untouchable caste. For a few months, this unlikely quartet share a tranquil happiness in a nameless city--a city of squalid streets teeming with beggars, where politicians, in the name of progress, abuse the poor and the powerless. Dina, whose dreams of attending college ended when her father died, is now trying to support herself with seamstress work; Maneck, a tenderhearted boy, has been sent to college because the family business is failing; and the two tailors find work with Dina. Though the four survive encounters with various thugs and are saved from disaster by a quirky character known as the Beggarmaster, the times are not propitious for happiness. On a visit back home, Om and Ishvar are forcibly sterilized; Maneck, devastated by the murder of an activist classmate, goes abroad. But Dina and the tailors, who have learned ``to maintain a fine balance between hope and despair,'' keep going. A sweeping story, in a thoroughly Indian setting, that combines Dickens's vivid sympathy for the poor with Solzhenitsyn's controlled outrage, celebrating both the resilience of the human spirit and the searing heartbreak of failed dreams.