The Ministry of Utmost Happiness
How to tell a shattered story?By slowly becoming everybody.No?By slowly becoming everything.The Ministry of Utmost Happiness takes us on a journey of many years – the story spooling outwards from the cramped neighbourhoods of Old Delhi into the burgeoning new metropolis and beyond, to the Valley of Kashmir and the forests of Central India, where war is peace and peace is war, and where, from time to time, ‘normalcy’ is declared.Anjum, who used to be Aftab, unrolls a threadbare carpet in a city graveyard that she calls home. A baby appears quite suddenly on a pavement, a little after midnight, in a crib of litter. The enigmatic S. Tilottama is as much of a presence as she is an absence in the lives of the three men who love her.The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is at once an aching love story and a decisive remonstration. It is told in a whisper, in a shout, through tears and sometimes with a laugh. Its heroes are people who have been broken by the world they live in and then rescued, mended by love – and by hope. For this reason, they are as steely as they are fragile, and they never surrender. This ravishing, magnificent book reinvents what a novel can do and can be. And it demonstrates on every page the miracle of Arundhati Roy’s storytelling gifts.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness Details

TitleThe Ministry of Utmost Happiness
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseJun 6th, 2017
PublisherHamish Hamilton
ISBN-139780670089635
Rating
GenreFiction, Cultural, India, Abandoned, Contemporary, Literary Fiction

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness Review

  • Emily May
    January 1, 1970
    I, like many people, have heard of the success of Roy's The God of Small Things from twenty years ago. It's been on my mental longlist of books to read since before Goodreads existed. Perhaps it was a mistake to put it off and opt for Roy's newer release instead, but all I can say is my expectations have significantly lowered after reading The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.At first, I thought the story was slow, dense and hard to follow. It took me a couple hundred pages of squinting hard to see I, like many people, have heard of the success of Roy's The God of Small Things from twenty years ago. It's been on my mental longlist of books to read since before Goodreads existed. Perhaps it was a mistake to put it off and opt for Roy's newer release instead, but all I can say is my expectations have significantly lowered after reading The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.At first, I thought the story was slow, dense and hard to follow. It took me a couple hundred pages of squinting hard to see the truth: there is no story.These kind of books have a special place in the heart of a certain type of reader. A reader who puts beautiful, complex writing over plot and emotional pull; a reader who doesn't mind looking back over almost 500 pages and realizing very little has happened, even if it was told with pretty language.The Ministry of Utmost Happiness essentially follows two main characters in South Asia - Tilo and Anjum - the former is dragged into the center of an independence movement, while the latter is intersex and living among ghosts. However, there is a confusing mess of characters introduced throughout the book and I found it hard to warm to anyone. It is set across the span of many years, through the partition of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, but these times of tremendous upheaval and horror were narrated coldly. The book is just very difficult to enjoy. It feels deliberately intellectual and lacking in personality. Not only is there a sea of forgettable characters, but the book zips quickly between past and present, third and first person, with almost no dialogue to separate the huge paragraphs of dense description. The book constantly has a foot in several tangents about spiritual anecdotes, diatribes, history lessons and various monologues, each of which went on far too long. When it finally came back to the main issues, it took me a while to get back on track.The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is a book without a plot that simply explores the perspectives, past and present, of many characters. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it's also not the kind of book I enjoy reading. It even feels disjointed, almost like a collection of short stories rather than a novel. I feel like The God of Small Things is going to be on my TBR a lot longer.Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Youtube
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  • Paromjit
    January 1, 1970
    This is a novel that captures the life that Arundhati Roy has lived and the issues that have consumed her since the publication of her groundbreaking The God of Small Things. It is a story about our contemporary world, of India, and Pakistan, delivered through the microcosm of individuals living through the never ending and harrowing conflict in Kashmir, and the fringe communities of outsiders in Delhi. It begins with the observation of vultures being eliminated through poison, a metaphor for th This is a novel that captures the life that Arundhati Roy has lived and the issues that have consumed her since the publication of her groundbreaking The God of Small Things. It is a story about our contemporary world, of India, and Pakistan, delivered through the microcosm of individuals living through the never ending and harrowing conflict in Kashmir, and the fringe communities of outsiders in Delhi. It begins with the observation of vultures being eliminated through poison, a metaphor for the way Indian society has been poisoned by a history of corrupt and venal politicians, religious hatreds, and the overflowing rivers of blood and death denied justice. It touches on the issues of caste, divisions based on country, gender and religion, grief, loss, and love. It is a sprawling tale which lacks the steering hand of a plot, so might not suit those looking for a more defined and structured read. I found it a riveting read, infused with humour amidst the horror, and beautifully written with vibrant imagery, underpinned with artistic, lyrical prose.In Delhi, a mother examines her new born boy, Aftab, only to find the disturbing anatomical female parts. The lonely Aftab grows up to haunt the Hijras, at the transgender centre, convinced that it is more home than his parental home or the rest of society where he cannot be himself. He is taken in and becomes the wildly popular Anjum, who takes in and raises a child, Zainab. We then get to know Tilo, in Kashmir, part of the youth brigades and her friends, a highly placed disenchanted intelligence officer, a journalist and Musa, an activist in the struggle. We see a region mired in infinite death without end. When asked to help Musa, Garson Hobard does so. Trauma causes Anjum to move to a family graveyard and build a home on top of it. It comes to be known as The Jannet Guesthouse, a sanctuary for outsiders and the misfits where no-one is turned away. It is a swirling hotbed for stories as a community springs up, supporting each other and bringing up a baby without the need for blood ties or religious divisions. This Ministry of Utmost Happiness, built on a graveyard, inhabited by minorities and outsiders, is the symbol for hope, peace and compassion amidst war torn Kashmir and for India. For those who hold opposing political viewpoints to the author, they are unlikely to be enamoured by this book. For me, it has some deep flaws such as the vast array of characters that it is difficult to do justice to. However, its strengths far outweigh its weaknesses. I found it a heartbreaking read when it comes to looking at the history and the current state of India, it is difficult to be optimistic about the future. Amidst the carnage, Roy paints a picture of hope and love through her eccentrics and misfits for whom India offers no home. Who would stand in the way of this literary vision? A stunning and brilliant read that I recommend highly. Thanks to Penguin for an ARC.
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  • Brina
    January 1, 1970
    Last year as part of my annual women of color reading challenge, I read international Man Booker award winner The God of Small Things (1999). Full of luscious prose and distinct story telling skills, Arundhati Roy expertly tells her readers a story of life in newly partitioned India. Roy is an author who I would easily race to bring home her new books albeit one issue- following the success of The God of Small Things she did not write another work of fiction. Roy has spent her career as a journa Last year as part of my annual women of color reading challenge, I read international Man Booker award winner The God of Small Things (1999). Full of luscious prose and distinct story telling skills, Arundhati Roy expertly tells her readers a story of life in newly partitioned India. Roy is an author who I would easily race to bring home her new books albeit one issue- following the success of The God of Small Things she did not write another work of fiction. Roy has spent her career as a journalist and award winning non fiction author, until this year, eighteen years later with the publication of The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. As the saying goes, some things are worth the wait. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness can best be categorized as contemporary literary fiction containing Roy's prose in many forms including poetry, letters, composition, dialogue, and her expert story telling skills. Her story begins in the graveyard Jannat Guest Home of Anjum, although we do not find out the setting or full cast of characters until much later. Anjum, born Aftab, is a hijra-- one who is neither masculine or feminine. In India it is said that only hijras enjoy true happiness, however; during Anjum's early life this is farthest from the truth. Shunned by all factions of society for being neither a boy or girl, eventually the newly female Anjum moves into a Khwabgah, a group home for hijras. The group develops a unique comradeship and it is amongst these people that Anjum lives for the rest of her life, either in the Khwabgah or guest house, which she builds for herself later on. The first third of the novel is Anjum's story with a large cast of characters, each with a distinctive personality and story to tell. I was captivated by this tale and would have been satisfied if the entire novel was about her and later her desire to be a mother; however, the second third of the novel takes on an entirely new twist. Roy regales her readers with the ongoing conflict in Kashmir. She briefly touches on this when a group at the Khwabgah watches the 9-11 terrorist attacks unfold on television. The hijras are unfazed by events taking place on the other side of the world, but various Muslim and Sikh cells have been plotting secessionist movements in Kashmir since the 1980s. Roy develops an entirely new plot with protagonists Tilo, Musa, Naga, and "Garson Hobart", who met at university; as well as sinister antagonist Commander Amrik Singh. Each comes from a distinct caste and are the unlikeliest of companions, yet a theater class brought them together, and they remain connected for the duration of their lives. The four play key roles in the free Kashmir movement, a life of terrorism, violence, human rights abuses, and too many funerals. A low point of the novel occurs with the story of the murder of Musa's three year old daughter, Miss Jebeen and his wife Arifa, one that tugged on both my and Tilo's heartstrings as Musa recounted it to her. He relates the line that stays with me the most, that in India, only the dead are living, and only the living are dead. To Musa, the murder was an inevitable part of war, yet, to Tilo, an event that sparked her maternal instinct to be a mother. The two plot lines converge as both Tilo and Anjum desire to save an unclaimed newborn baby in Delhi proper. Each woman would love to raise this child in a life free of the conflicts plaguing India, that unfortunately continue until this day. Ironically, this utmost happiness occurs in Anjum's communal Jannat Guest House in a graveyard, where a community of outcasts band together in harmony, and to raise an otherwise unwanted child. Throughout all of her storytelling, Roy deftly employs various forms of writing techniques to paint a picture of hope in India, one that had me mesmerized from her beginning words until the ending chords. I grew attached to Anjum, only to feel for Tilo, and then the story continues to begin anew. I would not be surprised if one day Arundhati Roy won the Nobel Prize for her life body of literary work. Her two novels are that powerful and each tell a captivating story of a distinct era in Indian history. While The Ministry of Utmost Happiness can be disjointed at times as one navigates through multiple plots and an extended cast of characters, the writing is excellent and holds attention throughout. Anjum, Tilo, and company are characters that I will remember for a long time. Hopefully we will not have to wait a full eighteen years for Roy's next work, but in the meantime, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is a scintillating 4.5 stars.
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  • Jaidee
    January 1, 1970
    2017 Award for the Read I was Most Afraid to Dislike I can't go on. I have spent hours getting to 50 percent. I can't do it.This book is draining me despite a few passages of immense brilliance.My Infinite Jest of 2017 and because I can't finish it...likely my worst read.A new title for me is :The Ministry of Utmost Frustration !!
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  • Alok Mishra
    January 1, 1970
    When the harp begins to sing and the guitar begins to harp, things change dramatically! That is why the book by A Roy has become a dramatic monologue of the ideas and innuendos that she often offers off the books. Reference to the past events are always the best way to write a novel; however, a subtle mechanism behind recalling the events of the past and making them sound like one wants to does call for a scrutiny! Roy's thoughts against the Indian state are well-known. Nevertheless, one (a read When the harp begins to sing and the guitar begins to harp, things change dramatically! That is why the book by A Roy has become a dramatic monologue of the ideas and innuendos that she often offers off the books. Reference to the past events are always the best way to write a novel; however, a subtle mechanism behind recalling the events of the past and making them sound like one wants to does call for a scrutiny! Roy's thoughts against the Indian state are well-known. Nevertheless, one (a reader of fiction, including myself) could not expect her doing the same in her fiction too. All the things, except the heart-rendering protagonist and her/his plight to a genuine level, seem genuinely verbose and breast-beating against a certain line of idea. The people who like this are the supposed audience and those who don't like it are the real protagonist of the novel. This was not expected of her. I could do best by rating this novel one but did not do because I respect the 'author of fiction'! And technically, the novel is too lengthy for the theme she has chosen; she could do the same peddling even in a 200-paged book!
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  • Amit Mishra
    January 1, 1970
    464 pages of utter garbage (organic as well as inorganic) against the Indian state as well as the popular belief, this is what the book offers you. Unless you are an ardent follower of the ideas that Arundhati Roy usually offers as a perfect example of hired gun by the people with vested interest, there is nothing in this book for you. So, don't be a reader like many including me who have wasted our money and time reading this unworthy material. You can read more about this book on the link belo 464 pages of utter garbage (organic as well as inorganic) against the Indian state as well as the popular belief, this is what the book offers you. Unless you are an ardent follower of the ideas that Arundhati Roy usually offers as a perfect example of hired gun by the people with vested interest, there is nothing in this book for you. So, don't be a reader like many including me who have wasted our money and time reading this unworthy material. You can read more about this book on the link below: The Ministry of Utmost Happiness Review
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  • Hannah Greendale
    January 1, 1970
    Click here to watch a video review of this book on my channel, From Beginning to Bookend.
  • Resh (The Book Satchel)
    January 1, 1970
    This is one of the trickiest books to review because it is good and bad at the same time; likeable and non-likeable at the same time. Fans of Roy should expect a novel that is so unlike its predecessor. The writing is beautiful, (more grim and dingy compared to The God of Small things) and Roy has managed to fit in almost all the problems of India, both political and social. The plot is weak, characters lack depth and the book could have been easily shorter. But on the other hand the book gives This is one of the trickiest books to review because it is good and bad at the same time; likeable and non-likeable at the same time. Fans of Roy should expect a novel that is so unlike its predecessor. The writing is beautiful, (more grim and dingy compared to The God of Small things) and Roy has managed to fit in almost all the problems of India, both political and social. The plot is weak, characters lack depth and the book could have been easily shorter. But on the other hand the book gives a quick glimpse at everything around the present India. This is something I really enjoyed because the incidents in the novel are happening RIGHT NOW and the reader can relate to almost all of them. This makes the book a profound read inspite of many drifting ends. Also, this is a book that will grow on you after you finish itRead the complete review to decide if the book would suit you - http://www.thebooksatchel.com/ministr...
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  • Seemita
    January 1, 1970
    [Originally appeared here: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/li...]How does a lament sound? Like a distorted sonorous wave? Hitting the crest with a shrill cry and falling to quietude with mangled whimpers? Or like a prolonged stream of soiled garble, comprehensible only to its beholder?I don't know on which note of the spectrum this book might fit in, but I do know that this book is a lament - lament on the daily struggles for (dignified) survival borne by the scarred populace of war-torn Kash [Originally appeared here: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/li...]How does a lament sound? Like a distorted sonorous wave? Hitting the crest with a shrill cry and falling to quietude with mangled whimpers? Or like a prolonged stream of soiled garble, comprehensible only to its beholder?I don't know on which note of the spectrum this book might fit in, but I do know that this book is a lament - lament on the daily struggles for (dignified) survival borne by the scarred populace of war-torn Kashmir, which unfortunately I can't talk of in past tense, and the marginalized of the society (taking the transgender as the pivotal link).The book, from where I see, is about two characters - A transgender, Anjum and a riot victim, Tilottama. Anjum, born Aftab in Old Delhi but discarded by her family for socially- unacceptable biological makeup, is adopted by a whore-house. She lives a good part of her life here before shifting her residence to a graveyard, courtesy a grave altercation related to adoption and rearing of a girl child. Tilottama, on the other hand, begins as a firebrand member of the youth brigade in a posh South Delhi locality but eventually drifts, amid three of her friends and her own dichotomies, to Kashmir and the city's deep, unknown, frequently fatal, alleys. How life, with her own surprises and shocks, brings the two together rounds up the story.This book, only second from Roy's stable in the last twenty years, retains the metaphorical music that she used to fair rapture in her first book. The descriptions, spring to life with her subtle touch, and she, almost, looks to have done that effortlessly. But regardless of what admonition and punishment awaited him, Aftab would return to his post stubbornly, day after day. It was the only place in his world where he felt the air made way for him. When he arrived, it seemed to shift, to slide over, like a school friend making room for him on a classroom bench. Roy's characteristic insight into her world's props and their subtle breaths is amply visible. She weaves intricate patterns, just like the stunning Kashmiri carpets she refers to couple of times, around her characters and one gets to see a motley crew doing their part well. The three friends, all of them men, who walk in and out of Tilo's life, represent the various facets of the societal fabric Roy wishes to highlight - Biplab is a senior officer in Intelligence Bureau, Naga is an incendiary journalist and Musa, an activist or terrorist (depending on the way you would like to see). She sensed that in some strange tangential way, he needed her shade as much as she needed his. And she had learned from experience that Need was a warehouse that could accommodate a considerable amount of cruelty. But she gets carried away. She touches upon issues of untouchability and gender divide, fanaticism and terrorism, but they emerge only as matter-of-factly. There are long stretches of pages which are dedicated to the haunting memories of Tilottama, which, at first grab our hearts and hold them in their throes, but soon, they become a necessary vent which loses both on emotional as well as novelty quotient. Anjum, in particular, is crafted with a lot of fragility and I would have loved to read a little more about her but Roy had another strong motive to accommodate. Those who are familiar with her political stances, which she has diligently championed across the various articles, non-fiction works and speeches she has put forward, would detect that a lot in this book comes shrouded in her disdain towards the state machinery and its administrators. Place as she might her contempt amid very many chapters, it comes straight out, and with a vengeance. The military establishments, too, come under attack and she holds very few guns back in lambasting their integrity. While she visibly tones down in the second half through the long monologues emanating from Biplab's hours of prophecy, she doesn't quite miss the diatribe train to dispatch her venom. Perhaps, that's why, even for someone fairly apolitical as I, the work didn't pass by without glaring its political face at close proximity to me.Those viewing the work from a political prism will mostly react in an emphatic manner - whether in support or opposition will depend on their political inclinations. But those looking from an emotional prism will also not be disappointed - she amalgamates the calm and the turbulent of her world with experienced rendition. Normality in our part of the world is a bit like a boiled egg: its humdrum surface conceals at its heart a yolk of egregious violence. In battle , Musa told Tilo, enemies can't break your spirit, only friends can. The book teeters over its bumpy rides with seething heart and clamped teeth, and comes to a standstill in the culminating chapters where a certain ray of hope and perpetuity leaps into the air. The quietness of the shikara stands in stark contrast to the rippling graveyard that is celebrating a wedding, and one doesn't still know where the lament erupted from and where it died down. Or if it is still wailing.[Note: Thanks to Netgalley, Arundhati Roy and Penguin Books (UK) for providing me an ARC.]--- Also on my blog.
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  • Ron Charles
    January 1, 1970
    Truly, this is a remarkable creation, a story both intimate and international, swelling with comedy and outrage, a tale that cradles the world’s most fragile people even while it assaults the Subcontinent’s most brutal villains.It will not convert Roy’s political enemies, but it will surely blast past them. Here are sentences that feel athletic enough to sprint on for pages, feinting in different directions at once, dropping disparate allusions, tossing off witty asides, refracting competing iro Truly, this is a remarkable creation, a story both intimate and international, swelling with comedy and outrage, a tale that cradles the world’s most fragile people even while it assaults the Subcontinent’s most brutal villains.It will not convert Roy’s political enemies, but it will surely blast past them. Here are sentences that feel athletic enough to sprint on for pages, feinting in different directions at once, dropping disparate allusions, tossing off witty asides, refracting competing ironies. This is writing that swirls so hypnotically that it doesn’t feel like words on paper so much as ink in water. Every paragraph dares you to keep up, forcing you finally to stop asking questions, to stop grasping for chronology and just. . . . To read the rest of this review, go The Washington Post:https://www.washingtonpost.com/entert...
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  • Maria
    January 1, 1970
    Inner dialogue while reading The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness:This is funOh this is sadThis is boring This is boring Who is this?Skip ahead to the part about the interesting character Shit now I don't know who they're talking aboutGo backThis is boring Skip ahead againSkimSkimSkimOnly 48% through?!It's a Man Booker keep goingSighThese judges always do this to meFinish reading in my carIt's hotI'm doneNext...
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  • Cecily
    January 1, 1970
    The Millstone of Unfair ExpectationsI am, by nature, a punctual person. I was very late to one novelistic Roy party and relatively early to the next. But in this case, it was the one I was late for that I enjoyed. In 2014, I finally read The God of Small Things, Roy’s award-winning and (then) only novel, published nearly 20 years earlier. I loved it: the lyrical mysticism, the layers of meaning and metaphor, the tangled plot, the complex characters, and the rich but unfamiliar setting. See my re The Millstone of Unfair ExpectationsI am, by nature, a punctual person. I was very late to one novelistic Roy party and relatively early to the next. But in this case, it was the one I was late for that I enjoyed. In 2014, I finally read The God of Small Things, Roy’s award-winning and (then) only novel, published nearly 20 years earlier. I loved it: the lyrical mysticism, the layers of meaning and metaphor, the tangled plot, the complex characters, and the rich but unfamiliar setting. See my review HERE for why.News that she’d finally written another novel (this) filled me with joy and excitement. I was conscious that it had a lot to live up to, but was eager to read it. Then I saw a trickle of very conflicting reviews from trusted GR friends. But I won a free copy in a GR giveaway. Fate? The Misery of Most UnhappinessIt pains me that I gave up on this book a little over one third through. There are flickers of beautiful writing, and interesting characters that I cared about. I suspect the different threads of the story eventually weave a wondrous tapestry, and I would probably discover the significance of recurring saffron and parakeets (the vultures are more obvious). But… There are many buts.Overall, it's a confusing, disjointed, inelegant muddle, with lengthy diversions into ideological and ecological rants and subplots, and with the narrative switching between novelistic, mystical, journalese, and political tract. The chapter where I abandoned it added letters, adverts, and a Kashmiri-English alphabet to the mix. All of those things can work. But here, for me, they don't. It was just too much. And the politics. This is what Roy has devoted herself to in the years between her two novels. I admire her devotion to advocacy for marginalised groups, but I was hampered by my relative ignorance of Indian issues. I felt this a bit with Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children (see my review HERE), with which this has more than a few similarities (including a child born at midnight), but Rushdie made it more digestible for ill-informed readers like me. And his storytelling was consistently magical. This novel is dedicated “To The Unconsoled”. Is it heretical appropriation to consider myself a little unconsoled?The Mirror of Most TransformationThis is about people reinventing themselves, as Roy certainly has. That is an inspiring and positive message and is what I will try to take away from my partial reading. The transformations include:• A woman trapped in a man’s body. • An adoptive mother who tries to “transfuse herself into [child’s] memory and consciousness… so that they could belong to each other completely” and to rewrite her life to please her child and make herself “a simpler, happier person”.• “A revolutionary trapped in an accountant’s mind.” • A man who adopts the name Saddam Hussein because he admires the courage to do what needed to be done and to face the fatal consequences with dignity “I want to be this kind of bastard”! • An abandoned baby girl raised by a moderately wealthy woman. • An irreverent, iconoclastic student who becomes an unemployable intellectual, and then a mainstream journalist.The Mix of Uncertain Gender“Holy Souls trapped in the wrong bodies”One of the main characters is a Hijra: a term used in India for those who, in the UK, might identify as trans women. Her life is especially intriguing, and sensitively and insightfully portrayed. The fact of their existence is apparently broadly accepted and unquestioned. The attitudes towards them are more mixed: they have a degree of protection because it’s thought unlucky to harm them. As long as they keep to the margins of society, with a few elevated to celebrity status, most get by, despite the perpetual risk of “harassment and humiliation (of being seen as well as of being unseen)”. Some of the more negative attitudes seem to come from the Hijra themselves: “We’re jackals who feed off other people’s happiness”, who were created by God as “an experiment… a living creature that is incapable of happiness” because their war is internal, and thus they can’t escape it.This leads to more existential analysis:“She fell through a crack between the world she knew and worlds she did not know existed.”“Was it possible to live outside language?” - when in Urdu, everything has a gender.The Minimum of Utmost Quotes• “She recognised loneliness… And she had learned… that Need was a warehouse that could accommodate a considerable amount of cruelty.”• “The fan had human qualities - she was coy, moody and unpredictable.”• “The Mouse [nickname of abandoned child] absorbs love like sand absorbs the sea.”• “In the hissing blue light of the… lantern [his] face looked like a dried riverbed.”• “Her steadfast commitment to an exaggerated, outrageous kind of femininity made the real, biological women… look cloudy and dispersed.”• “To be present in history, even as nothing more than a chuckle, was a universe away from being absent from it.”• “It was an unprepossessing graveyard.”• “The smack addicts… shadows just a deeper shade of night… clots of homeless people sat around fires… stray dogs in better health than the humans.”• “A ravaged, feral spectre, out-haunting every djinn and spirit” - the overwhelming effect of grief and undiagnosed PTSD.• “She lay in a pool of light, under a column of neon-lit mosquitoes… She had already learned that tears, her tears at least, were futile.” (An abandoned baby who is then described as symbolic of the city in general and slum clearance in particular.)• “[Journalists] asking urgent, empty questions; they asked the poor what it was like to be poor… The TV channels… never ran out of despair.”• “He who believed he was always right. She who knew she was all wrong… augmented by her ambiguity.”• “The fog is hunched up against the window panes.”• “Candidly homosexual, although he never brought it up in conversation.”• “Something about the stillness of this hastily abandoned space makes it look like a frozen frame in a moving picture. It seems to contain the geometry of motion… The absence of the person who lived here is so real, so palpable, that it is almost a presence”
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  • Candi
    January 1, 1970
    DNF - No ratingSeveral days ago I posted that I was considering giving up on this book. I very rarely DNF anything, and it pained me to consider quitting this highly anticipated novel. I rather enjoyed Roy's previous novel, The God of Small Things, and I am always drawn to books that will teach me something about another culture. I don't mind a challenge. However, I was not simply challenged - I was befuddled. I wasn't sure what the author was trying to deliver. It seems that my background on mo DNF - No ratingSeveral days ago I posted that I was considering giving up on this book. I very rarely DNF anything, and it pained me to consider quitting this highly anticipated novel. I rather enjoyed Roy's previous novel, The God of Small Things, and I am always drawn to books that will teach me something about another culture. I don't mind a challenge. However, I was not simply challenged - I was befuddled. I wasn't sure what the author was trying to deliver. It seems that my background on more recent Indian politics is extremely lacking. Which is okay, I would have liked to have been educated on the topic. But perhaps Roy was counting on me to have done some of my own research beforehand. I just couldn't get a handle on the recent historical events. The characters were very interesting, and I would have liked to learn more about them. However, at the one-third point in this book, I felt like I had to wade through too much unknown territory in order to make some attempt to connect with the people with whom I was becoming acquainted. The prose at times was quite dazzling and for this I was grateful. But, I had promised myself that 2018 would see some changes in my reading habits - the main one being that I would read books that would feel truly rewarding or that would provide some healthy dose of just good old-fashioned entertainment. This book, sadly, was not either of those things. Should Ms. Roy decide to pen another novel in the future, I will not discount it. I can't deny her talent, but we just didn't click this time around.
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  • Subashini
    January 1, 1970
    By standards of a conventional novel, this is a failure. It is one of the most interesting failures I've read. It's a sprawling, ambitious novel with no plot. Many of the elements of modern India--Dalit and hijra rights, the occupation of Kashmir, tribal land enclosures, Hindu fundamentalism, Maoist uprisings--are here. It's alive on every page. This is bound to piss off far-right patriots and nationalists of every stripe. It will probably also piss off people who read solely for entertainment a By standards of a conventional novel, this is a failure. It is one of the most interesting failures I've read. It's a sprawling, ambitious novel with no plot. Many of the elements of modern India--Dalit and hijra rights, the occupation of Kashmir, tribal land enclosures, Hindu fundamentalism, Maoist uprisings--are here. It's alive on every page. This is bound to piss off far-right patriots and nationalists of every stripe. It will probably also piss off people who read solely for entertainment and need a beginning, middle, and an end. There are some reservations I have about this and her politics. Maybe my quibble is that she doesn't go far enough. I could have done without the "one baby to unite them all" thread. I'm guessing that this is what Roy and her editors feel they have to give readers who demand some sense of "closure". So that's my biggest issue with the book: at heart it's about radical politics, but it acquiesces to conservative notions of art and what a novel should be, maybe? I'm not sure. But if this is what failed fiction looks like--attentive to the dispossessed, the marginalised, and the oppressed; fractured, broken, and sprawling--then I'll take it over polite, well-mannered, perfectly-executed fiction any day.
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  • Arnav Sinha
    January 1, 1970
    I was in school in 1997-98, living in a small township. Most of my reading was limited to the age-appropriate fare on offer at our school library, which I had far outgrown (and read twice over). All of a sudden, this new book by an unheard of Indian author was being covered by the print media (and the one TV news program), and it felt like a good bet to spend my hard-earned pocket money on. The hardcover cost about Rs. 400, which seemed like a big amount for someone who had only bought 2nd-hand I was in school in 1997-98, living in a small township. Most of my reading was limited to the age-appropriate fare on offer at our school library, which I had far outgrown (and read twice over). All of a sudden, this new book by an unheard of Indian author was being covered by the print media (and the one TV news program), and it felt like a good bet to spend my hard-earned pocket money on. The hardcover cost about Rs. 400, which seemed like a big amount for someone who had only bought 2nd-hand Archie comic books before that. In my most impulsive purchase till then, I went ahead and bought TGoST in my next visit to the nearest town. I started reading the book right there while waiting for my parents to get their own (non-book-related) shopping done, continued to read through most of the lunch, and on our trip back home, and late into the night. I cried when Ammu said 'Naaley'. Partly because the book had ended. Partly because nothing I had read had ever hit me so hard before that. Not much has since then either. I have loved Arundhati Roy's first and, for a long time, only work of fiction deeply. It's the only novel I have read several times, and probably loved it more each time I have read it. It was the book that sustained me when I lived the life of a hermit preparing for my college entrance exams. That precious copy I had bought in school was gifted to my closest friend in engineering college. A number of other copies were bought after that and gifted to people dear to me. Heck, it was even my topic when I prepared for a version of Mastermind for our college quizzing club. And I tend to judge people often by whether they like the book or not.So this 20-year wait for her next novel has been excruciatingly long. From what I have figured over this period from her nonfiction writing, even if she had written a book with a blindfold on, I would have found it difficult to completely dislike it.With that hideously long preamble done, let me happily state that I mostly loved this novel too. Her crazy word play, those lovingly constructed characters, their heart-breaking relationships, surviving and not surviving through what time, geography and the Indian Government throw at them, are all there. At over 400 pages, it is not a short novel by any standards, but my interest never flagged (big deal for me) and I finished it in one sitting (even bigger deal).(I don't talk about the story itself, but talk about the basic themes, but some readers might find even that a spoiler this early in the book's release history, so beware.)The novel starts off in Old Delhi and spends a long time with a group of kinnars ('eunuchs' would probably be the literal, but impolite, translation). And then almost suddenly changes track and moves to Kashmir, with another set of characters. As one would expect, it all ties up eventually, but I would have liked to spend more time with the Delhi crowd (probably the only time I would say that about any Delhi crowd). In any case, members of the entire cast, even the least important ones, are beautifully realized. (Like Ammu in TGoST, there is a prominent character here too inspired in many ways by Roy herself.) This, I feel, is Roy's great strength. No matter how idiosyncratic the characters might be, they seem way too real, like you know them, and so, are worth caring for. Roy's even greater strength is the relationships. Because, like the previous novel, this one is also primarily about love. Love in its many many weird manifestations, between humans, humans and animals, humans and dead humans, humans and dead animals, and well you get the idea. I would like to swear that I have grown older in the last 20 years, less susceptible to those tear-jerking tricks that authors employ. But like Frank Capra movies, Ms Roy's writing does some things that I can't explain. So I will remain a fanboy for now. Readers strongly opposed to Roy's political views might have a more difficult task at their hands with this book though, because the novel covers the whole gamut of issues dear to her - Kashmir (the main plot), naxalism, capitalism, casteism, Gujarat riots, 1984 riots, rise of Hindu nationalism, and maybe more - and generally takes a stand not conforming to the widely held middle and upper class, 'mainland', view prevalent these days in India. Even for me, who appreciates Roy's contrarian stands, without always completely agreeing with them, the novel seemed to edge very close to becoming a propaganda tool first and a novel as an afterthought in places. Heck, she even uses the phrase 'algebra of infinite justice' at a point. Some of her other book titles might also find mention, but I was not looking closely.There are unflattering depictions of characters based on AB Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh, Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal. And, of course, Roy's favorite Gujarat's Lalla, who happens to be a very popular PM currently. For these reasons, it won't be surprising if in the way things are handled these days (in India and in many other parts of the world), there would be widespread criticism of the book (some nutcase might even call for its banning!) by many who haven't even read it. We tend to be particularly sensitive to how India is portrayed in front of foreigners, and this litany of accusations (which is the only thing many might see here), this criticism of the 'stupidification' of the country, might seem like too much bad PR by a book that is bound to be feted and translated all over. That is, in fact, the only reason why these issues would antagonize most Indians. Otherwise, partly because these issues have been raised much too often already by the media and other authors, and partly because those who will generally read the book are fortunate to lead fairly comfortable lives, we have long become immune to them.
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  • Maxwell
    January 1, 1970
    How to review The Ministry of Utmost Happiness? It is indeed a tough feat because it's such a complex novel. And at the same time it lacks so much that I really struggled to follow what was happening.Having previously attempted to read Roy's debut (and Booker winning) novel, The God of Small Things, and not finished it, I'm actually quite surprised I ended up completing her second (and longer) one.But this book had so much potential. So much! I really never wanted to stop reading it, even when I How to review The Ministry of Utmost Happiness? It is indeed a tough feat because it's such a complex novel. And at the same time it lacks so much that I really struggled to follow what was happening.Having previously attempted to read Roy's debut (and Booker winning) novel, The God of Small Things, and not finished it, I'm actually quite surprised I ended up completing her second (and longer) one.But this book had so much potential. So much! I really never wanted to stop reading it, even when I was confused on who was talking or what was happening or if we were in the present or past or future. Roy's writing style, though in this one heavily dependent on cultural and political references, is delightful. Underneath it all—underneath the grim and depressing and darkness that comes with writing about "the Unconsoled" (to whom the book is dedicated)—there is a sort of whimsy. Roy's truly an excellent writer, I just wish she'd had a better editor.I won't complain about this book's length because 440 pages isn't necessarily too long. But it is when there isn't a clear direction, and that's what I felt this book lacked most. I would've been completely on board if this had been solely the narrative of Anjum, a hijra (transgender woman), or if it had only told the story of Tilo and the three men who loved her. But Roy tries to pack so much into this novel—aside from her fictional characters' stories she includes a lot of historical elements—that it becomes very messy.Again, I think this could've been a much better read, maybe even 5 stars, with the right editing. Sadly, it became a story that, while I didn't want to put it down in the moment, will probably not stick with me for very long.
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  • Hadrian
    January 1, 1970
    Lots to say about this one. I'll only offer a few brief remarks, as much of that has no doubt been said before. The book starts in a graveyard - no cheery prospect, as the carrion birds die of ingesting analgesics meant for livestock. We then follow Anjum, a Hijra (look it up), through her life and upbringing. She finds a temporary community, flourishes there, but then is caught up in the 2002 Gujarat pogrom. That is where we return to the beginning of the novel, where she builds a home in the g Lots to say about this one. I'll only offer a few brief remarks, as much of that has no doubt been said before. The book starts in a graveyard - no cheery prospect, as the carrion birds die of ingesting analgesics meant for livestock. We then follow Anjum, a Hijra (look it up), through her life and upbringing. She finds a temporary community, flourishes there, but then is caught up in the 2002 Gujarat pogrom. That is where we return to the beginning of the novel, where she builds a home in the graveyard, a guest lodge for fellow travelers. During a performance, a baby is lost and found by a certain S. Tilottma, and her story winds through the second half of the book.Tilottma, or Tilo, is born to a Syriac Christian mother who fell in love with a Dalit. (Same as the author's mother.) Tilo gets closer to Musa, a classmate of hers, a kind and dependable man. Their relationship warms up. His liberal sensibilities are shaken by the fanatical nationalism of his coworkers, and he is jolted by the threats of terror, political violence, and war. The story of Tilo and Musa thus - circuitously, tortuously - winds back to Anjum, her home, and the baby. But enough of the summary. Some incomplete thoughts - Roy treats identity as a liberating factor, but also a prison. Anjum becomes famous and is photographed often as a Hijra, but she retreats further into herself after the trauma of the 2002 purges. What is there for an escape from the combined limitations of language and power? When gender and identity are built into language?Roy portrays India as a storm of chaos, and the authorial depictions range from the grotesque to the magical. As respite, she finds stability in certain circumscribed places of refuge. Little communities like Anjum's resting house in the graveyard, little islands in the vast sea of humanity and time. Roy's insistence on right action is a marked contrast to the portrayal of others' fatalism and the cyclical view of history. Enormous, messy, complicated book. Worth revisiting, perhaps, when I know more.
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  • Ashlula Ayse
    January 1, 1970
    This is a political book from A. Roy, reflecting on the conflict and times of turmoil between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. The multitude of intricacies; the problems the peoples of that region had to face for many decades are being told through the viewpoint of many protagonists; each fighting their own demons and telling their part of the multifaceted drama. The effects of new imperialism, exploitation of people's lands, corruption of governments, people divided by religon, effects of invas This is a political book from A. Roy, reflecting on the conflict and times of turmoil between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. The multitude of intricacies; the problems the peoples of that region had to face for many decades are being told through the viewpoint of many protagonists; each fighting their own demons and telling their part of the multifaceted drama. The effects of new imperialism, exploitation of people's lands, corruption of governments, people divided by religon, effects of invasion of Afghanistan, constant war as a way of money-making is given in the stories; fragment by fragment, motif by motif, through experiences from both sides..The story begins innocently, much like a fairy-tale from 1001 nights. But then the violence, the pain, the hate shatters this peace. In the end, all the characters gather in a graveyard (one way or another) and in/through death all is erased and equalized; all the lost pieces of the soul are buried, and innocence starts being restored for the people in the story. However one knows its hardly the end of any evil, and so there is no relief..
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  • Cheri
    January 1, 1970
    4 stars for the prose2 stars for enjoymentI’ve heard so many wonderful things about Arundhati Roy’s “ The God of Small Things ” that I was really looking forward to reading her latest - despite a few less than shining reviews. I was still looking forward to reading “ The Ministry of Utmost Happiness .” What can I say about my actual experience reading this? I was occasionally awed by her prose, lovely. This is a moving story filled with the horrors of man’s inhumanity to man, not a new topic, bu 4 stars for the prose2 stars for enjoymentI’ve heard so many wonderful things about Arundhati Roy’s “ The God of Small Things ” that I was really looking forward to reading her latest - despite a few less than shining reviews. I was still looking forward to reading “ The Ministry of Utmost Happiness .” What can I say about my actual experience reading this? I was occasionally awed by her prose, lovely. This is a moving story filled with the horrors of man’s inhumanity to man, not a new topic, but not one to be complacent about. And yet, even though I read lovely, thoughtful, perhaps even inspired sections, there were very limited times when I felt anything. It felt a bit like rapidly fired information, with little or no emotional connection.Every time I would pause, or close this book for any period of time, I would hear the same ‘refrain.’“I felt... nothing.”Still, I persisted... and there were moments that gave me hope, but ultimately, overall, that feeling didn’t change. “Ev'ry day for a week we would try to Feel the motion, feel the motion Down the hill.“Ev'ry day for a week we would try to Hear the wind rush, hear the wind rush, Feel the chill.“And I dug right down to the bottom of my soulTo see what I had inside.Yes, I dug right down to the bottom of my soulAnd I tried, I tried.“And everybody's goin' ‘Whooooosh, whooooosh ...I feel the snow... I feel the cold... I feel the air.’And Mr. Karp turns to me and he says, ‘Okay, Morales. What did you feel?’“And I said...’Nothing, I'm feeling nothing,’And he says ‘Nothing Could get a girl transferred.’“They all felt something, But I felt nothingExcept the feeling That this bullshit was absurd!“Six months later I heard that Karp had died.And I dug right down to the bottom of my soul... And cried.'Cause I felt... nothing.” -- “Nothing” – Chorus LineMany thanks, once again, to the Public Library system for the loan of this book!
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  • Apoorva
    January 1, 1970
    Arundhati Roy is here to save us all.
  • Paul
    January 1, 1970
    The much anticipated follow up to The God of Small Things. I know opinions have been divided about this, but for me it did not disappoint. It is panoramic in scope with a vast range of characters. It ranges across the Indian subcontinent with a special focus on the conflict in Kashmir. The novel’s real focus is the marginalised, the victims of corruption, oppression and prejudice. The novel’s politics is laced with irony and humour. There is also great human warmth amidst the horror.As always Ro The much anticipated follow up to The God of Small Things. I know opinions have been divided about this, but for me it did not disappoint. It is panoramic in scope with a vast range of characters. It ranges across the Indian subcontinent with a special focus on the conflict in Kashmir. The novel’s real focus is the marginalised, the victims of corruption, oppression and prejudice. The novel’s politics is laced with irony and humour. There is also great human warmth amidst the horror.As always Roy’s writing is lyrical and adds lustre to the everyday. This is how the novel begins;“At magic hour, when the sun is gone but the light has not, armies of flying foxes unhinge themselves from the Banyan trees in the old graveyard and drift across the city like smoke. When the bats leave, the crows come home. Not all the din of their homecoming fills the silence left by the sparrows that have gone missing, and the old white-backed vultures, custodians of the dead for more than a hundred million years, that have been wiped out. The vultures died of diclofenac poisoning. Diclofenac, cow aspirin, given to cattle as a muscle relaxant, to ease pain and increase the production of milk, works—worked—like nerve gas on white-backed vultures. Each chemically relaxed milk-producing cow or buffalo that died became poisoned vulture bait. As cattle turned into better dairy machines, as the city ate more ice cream, butterscotch-crunch, nutty-buddy and chocolate-chip, as it drank more mango milkshake, vultures’ necks began to droop as though they were tired and simply couldn’t stay awake. Silver beards of saliva dripped from their beaks, and one by one they tumbled off their branches, dead.”The plot is complex and the characterization excellent and for me the standout characters were Anjum and Tilo. The plot is labyrinthine and I’m not going to try to explain it. Roy does try to explain her country: “Normality in our part of the world is a bit like a boiled egg: its humdrum surface conceals at its heart a yolk of egregious violence. It is our constant anxiety about that violence, our memory of its past labors and our dread of its future manifestations, that lays down the rules for how a people as complex and as diverse as we continue to coexist — continue to live together, tolerate each other and, from time to time, murder one another.”It is clear she feels passionately about the plight of those she writes about and her challenges to Hindu nationalism have made her unpopular in some quarters. Roy does see the inherent tension in her position as well as one of the characters writes. “I would like to write one of those sophisticated stories in which even though nothing much happens there’s lots to write about. That can’t be done in Kashmir. It’s not sophisticated, what happens here. There’s too much blood for good literature.”As Anita Fellicelli points out in her review;“The true measure of a democracy is in how it treats its most marginalized and vulnerable people.”Roy’s criticisms are pertinent, but in the west it feels to me like we are also guilty of the same, making her warnings just as relevant. This is one of my favourites this year.
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  • Phrynne
    January 1, 1970
    I am not going to give this 5 stars because it did not totally win me over the way The God of Small Things did. However it was still a very satisfactory reading experience.I must say first though that there is a lot about politics and politics do not interest me one tiny bit as much as they do Arundhati Roy. So I have to admit to the teeniest amount of skimming from time to time. Which is a shame because she writes so very beautifully at all times. I have not been to India but she makes me feel I am not going to give this 5 stars because it did not totally win me over the way The God of Small Things did. However it was still a very satisfactory reading experience.I must say first though that there is a lot about politics and politics do not interest me one tiny bit as much as they do Arundhati Roy. So I have to admit to the teeniest amount of skimming from time to time. Which is a shame because she writes so very beautifully at all times. I have not been to India but she makes me feel as though I know it well with her beautiful descriptions.There is a small army of characters, some with difficult names, but the important ones are drawn well and their lives are quite extraordinary. Our main character, Anjum, ends up building a guest house in a cemetery with rooms built around graves. Definitely original.This is a book from which we can learn a lot about India, about war and poverty and what it does to people and of course how these people still live and love and survive. Definitely worth reading!
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  • Dannii Elle
    January 1, 1970
    This is my first book read in the Women's Prize for Fiction longlist. I can both acknowledge and deny the power of this book. It is a novel without a story. It is a story without a narrative. It is about everything and focused on nothing. And not knowing this sooner formed much of my early discontent with a novel that defied its own noun's traditions at every possible junction.Beautiful penmanship trumps all, for me. And yet in a book that seemed the very definition of what that means, I found i This is my first book read in the Women's Prize for Fiction longlist. I can both acknowledge and deny the power of this book. It is a novel without a story. It is a story without a narrative. It is about everything and focused on nothing. And not knowing this sooner formed much of my early discontent with a novel that defied its own noun's traditions at every possible junction.Beautiful penmanship trumps all, for me. And yet in a book that seemed the very definition of what that means, I found it hard to appreciate when there was no substance to back up what it was detailing. I found this lack of, well, tradition I guess, almost infuriating. It was like this book was written with water for ink and the the reader is encouraged to squint their eyes and detect whatever details they can from it and formulate this into a semblance of an original, complete thing. Some can be excited with the innovation and cleverness of this and others, like myself, will end up merely overwhelmed with wet fingertips.I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to the author, Arundhati Roy, and the publisher, Knopf, for this opportunity.
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  • Emma
    January 1, 1970
    I'm giving up on this one. It has flashes of her brilliance, but it wanders too far and too often from the path.
  • Paul Fulcher
    January 1, 1970
    Arundhati Roy waited 20 years to write the follow up to her Booker-prize-winning and best-selling debut novel, so unsurprisingly many publishers vied for this book. She tells in a Guardian interview how she chose the successful publisher:She told her literary agent, “I don’t want all this bidding and vulgarity, you know.” She wanted interested publishers to write her a letter instead, describing “how they understood” her book. She then convened a meeting with them. “OK,” her agent prompted after Arundhati Roy waited 20 years to write the follow up to her Booker-prize-winning and best-selling debut novel, so unsurprisingly many publishers vied for this book. She tells in a Guardian interview how she chose the successful publisher:She told her literary agent, “I don’t want all this bidding and vulgarity, you know.” She wanted interested publishers to write her a letter instead, describing “how they understood” her book. She then convened a meeting with them. “OK,” her agent prompted afterwards. “You know what they think. You’ve met them. Now decide.”“Oh no,” she told him. “Not yet. First I’ll have to consult.” He was puzzled. “You consult me, right?” “No, I have to consult these folks. You know, the folks in my book.” So the author and her agent sat together in silence while she asked the characters in her novel which publisher they liked the best. At first sight this is a humorous and praiseworthy anecdote, but read after reading this bloated and shambolic novel it reads very differently. I strongly suspect the unsuccessful publishers suggested cutting several of the characters (who then objected in the vote), deleting large parts of the book and splitting it into two novels. Had their advice been taken this could have been a - or two - great novels. As it is, it is a massive disappointment, and disappointing in turn that the Booker jury longlisted it on I suspect the grounds of the author's Booker legendary status, and political worthiness rather than its actual merits. (The lack of tough editing of a follow-up novel to a best-seller reminded me strongly of Donna Tartt's Goldfinch, where my review [https://www.goodreads.com/review/edit...] began "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a famous writer in possession of an over-long novel, must be in want of an editor.”)One of Roy's assertions - via a character, but it is one of several places where she indirectly justifies her style is:I would like to write one of those sophisticated stories in which even though nothing much happens there's lots to write about. That can't be done on Kashmir. It's not sophisticated, what happens here. There's too much blood for good literature.Fortunately there is a debut novel out this weekend that proves her wrong - Preti Taneja's We That Are Young, by someone equally involved in human rights work, albeit without the headline grabbing trips to Moscow with Hollywood stars. I loved it when I read an ARC (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2...) and great to see it get a rave review in The Sunday Times today: thetim.es/2waJwdF. Please read that instead and skip this one.----------------------------------------------------A few comments on the book :Arundhati Roy has spent the last 20 years engaged in a wide variety of human rights and political campaigning. Perhaps unsurprisingly she attempts to cram pretty much every one of those themes into this novel. More disappointingly though she includes a number of characters based on curde caricatures of real-life people. The Prime Ministers (Manmohan Singh as the "trapped rabbit", Modi as "Gujarat ka Lall") are obvious to the reader and arguably fair game, if rather easy targets.But, for example, it took me a while and some googling to get that Mr Aggrawal is based on Arvind Kejriwal and Anna Hazare is the real-life tubby Ghandian. And frankly their inclusion comes across as rather petty score settling on Roy's behalf given they were originally all on the same side in the anti-corruption protest before splitting in Judean People's Front fashion. To be fair to Roy, in another place where she has her characters apologise for the faults of her novel (see above also) she has one of her characters tell a version of Emo Philip's wonderful and related joke (https://www.theguardian.com/stage/200...). But acknowledging a novel's flaw doesn't make them go away.To try some praise though she is particularly strong, in polemic if not, by her own admission (above) novelistic terms, on the situation in Kashmir. And also on the worrying distortion of democracy in India with an increasing tyranny of the majority: a theme that also underlies Brexit (tyranny-of-the-52%), Trump (albeit the tyranny of a-minority-except-under-an-archaic-electoral-system) and in the U.K. McDonnell (the as yet unfilled desire for a tyranny-of-the-losers).Salman Rushdie expressed this well in the Guardian in an article on the 70th anniversary of partition (https://www.theguardian.com/books/201...)Midnight’s Children was published a few months before the 34th anniversary of Indian independence in 1981, and another 36 years have elapsed since then. The novel now feels like a half-time report. The second half deserves its own novel, although I am not the right person to write it.There is no sign that the Indian electorate will turn against the present government any time soon. Midnight’s grandchildren seem content with what’s happening. And that’s the pessimistic conclusion to volume two of the Indian story.I also enjoyed the novel's two main characters. - Tilo, who could be taken as a proxy for Roy herself: certainly Tilo's mother's life (albeit not her death) is closely based on that of Roy's own (Mary Roy), as was Ammu in God of Small Things: but Roy herself has observed in interviews:Tilo, Tilottama, is the fictional child of Ammu and Velutha in The God of Small Things, had their story ended differently. She’s the younger sibling of Esthappen and Rahel. So, you know, I know her well, but I’m not her.- and Anjum, a 'hijra', who in the novel's opening chapters again provides a justification of Roy's technique: Long ago a man who knew English told her that her name written backwards (in English) spelled Majnu. In the English version of the story of Laila and Majnu, he said, Majnu was called Romeo and Laila was Juliet. She found that hilarious. “You mean I’ve made a khichdi of their story?” she asked. “What will they do when they find that Laila may actually be Majnu and Romi was really Juli?” The next time he saw her, the Man Who Knew English said he’d made a mistake. Her name spelled backwards would be Mujna, which wasn’t a name and meant nothing at all. To this she said, “It doesn’t matter. I’m all of them, I’m Romi and Juli, I’m Laila and Majnu. And Mujna, why not? Who says my name is Anjum? I’m not Anjum, I’m Anjuman.I’m a mehfil, I’m a gathering. Of everybody and nobody, of everything and nothing. Is there anyone else you would like to invite? Everyone’s invited.If I may for once use the Bible as literature rather than scripture, one is tempted to respond that "many are invited but few are chosen", or at least that is the way an author and editor should approach a novel.
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  • Trish
    January 1, 1970
    I spent weeks listening to Roy read her new book to me. She has a darling, child-like voice contrasted with a mouth that utters the most shocking things rarely spoken aloud. Her characters reflect the world in all its diversity: gay, straight, trans, politicians, destitute, landlords, and untouchable caste. India doesn’t seem so distant all of a sudden. And that, I argue, is the reason to read this book. Much of what Roy shares in terms of culture is unfamiliar but her characters and their motiv I spent weeks listening to Roy read her new book to me. She has a darling, child-like voice contrasted with a mouth that utters the most shocking things rarely spoken aloud. Her characters reflect the world in all its diversity: gay, straight, trans, politicians, destitute, landlords, and untouchable caste. India doesn’t seem so distant all of a sudden. And that, I argue, is the reason to read this book. Much of what Roy shares in terms of culture is unfamiliar but her characters and their motivations can be found anywhere. Roy is more of an activist than a novelist. I only say that because she is wide open and social, not secluding herself to write rather than experience. She wants to influence rather than describe. Let’s face it, she would be great at any number of professions. Roy writes very well indeed, and if you open her 444-pg book anywhere you are likely to find a description you want to remember for its clarity and exactness, for making you want to book a ticket immediately to see if you can find that, too. The conversation she begins with us is long and meandering, and an acolyte would follow her there. I never read A God of Small Things. The book had been so widely praised when it came out, I thought I would give myself some distance in case my attention was influenced by its bestseller status. At the time, her youth, beauty, and passion influenced many reviewers, which I gleaned from their own words. There is no reason to fall out of love with her now. She is just as lovely and clever and passionate. But is she more of an activist than a novelist?This novel has been long listed for the 2017 Man Booker International Award. That must be very gratifying for Ms. Roy and I hope that is comfort enough. There are some great works up against her this year and her work—whether twenty years in the making or not—simply cannot measure against them. That doesn’t make her less charming or passionate or right.
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  • Hugh
    January 1, 1970
    This year's Man Booker longlist announcement is due in a couple of days, so now seemed a good time to catch up with the only one I missed from last year's list. I was deterred by the high price of the hardback edition and some pretty negative friend reviews, which lowered my expectations to the point where I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it.As Roy's first novel in 20 years it is hardly surprising that it has a lot of ground to cover. So yes, it is a little messy and perhaps unfo This year's Man Booker longlist announcement is due in a couple of days, so now seemed a good time to catch up with the only one I missed from last year's list. I was deterred by the high price of the hardback edition and some pretty negative friend reviews, which lowered my expectations to the point where I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it.As Roy's first novel in 20 years it is hardly surprising that it has a lot of ground to cover. So yes, it is a little messy and perhaps unfocused, but she has an instinctive sympathy for India's many and diverse outsiders (hermaphrodites, Kashmiri Muslims, untouchables and unmarried mothers are among its array of unlikely characters). There is plenty of humour mixed with the darker stories, and I was reminded a little of early Rushdie, particularly Shame.It is now a little late to talk of where I would rank this in last year's longlist and some of them have faded from memory a little, but I would say 7th or 8th, and only as low as that because there were so many books I loved on that list, and in weaker years it might well have deserved a shortlisting.
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  • Pechi
    January 1, 1970
    Expectations would be your vilest villain if you venture into The Ministry of Utmost Happiness wanting to relive that oh-so-delicious reading of The God of Small Things. As the cliché goes, a rude shock would awaken you if you were that naive. You have to understand that Arundhati has switched professions and is now more of an activist than a writer. This is Arundhati-the-activist's book except for some parts few and far between where Roy's literary originality, mischief, and humor pokes its hea Expectations would be your vilest villain if you venture into The Ministry of Utmost Happiness wanting to relive that oh-so-delicious reading of The God of Small Things. As the cliché goes, a rude shock would awaken you if you were that naive. You have to understand that Arundhati has switched professions and is now more of an activist than a writer. This is Arundhati-the-activist's book except for some parts few and far between where Roy's literary originality, mischief, and humor pokes its head out for the starved reader to gorge on. It's understandable that most readers were enraged when they found that the activist had hijacked the writing of this novel. This certainly isn't a novel in its traditional sense. Roy lays a buffet of India's most important social and political issues from the plight of Hijras to Naxalism to Kashmir. Characters are mere literary formalities she has to go through to ax in what she really wants to say about those issues. Some characters thankfully escape into three dimensions from their cardboard cutouts and such escapes are the ones that make this read worthwhile. If we didn't know better, we could argue that this book experiments with the structure, pushes the boundaries and expands the very meaning of a novel. But we know that Roy's concern for India and its oppressed, faceless and voiceless people (around which she has modeled her life as an activist. A formidable thing to do.) far outweighs her concerns (if any) about the appropriateness of this book as a literary work. Should we just call it transgressive in terms of structure and leave it at that? The novel begins beautifully with the story of Anjum and for at least the first hundred pages you feel the same sense of ecstatic helplessness you felt with the seductive prose of The God of Small Things. But everything goes for a spin as the novel progresses, burdening itself with more characters, more agenda and even more national issues like a train slowly filling itself with passengers to the point of inundation. It is hard not to feel that Roy had an exhaustive checklist of problems she wanted to cover within the confines of this novel. But the momentary flashes of brilliance keep us going. It's amazingly written and there cannot be a second opinion about that. Roy's prose almost consolingly makes up for all the other multitudinous drawbacks. If you're the one to find autobiographical elements in fiction interesting, you have Tilottama who seems to be a partial portrait of Roy herself. It is not widely known that Roy is an architect, that she lived in Delhi slums and tried her hands in acting, screenplay writing and a lot of other odd professions before writing her debut novel. (Her performance as an actress was highly praised by Sujatha in an article for Kanayaazhiyin Kadaisi Pakkangal he wrote around 1990. And she won a national award for screenplay writing in the late 80s.) If she decides to actually write it, her autobiography would be quite fascinating.Written over a period of twenty years, you can sense the occasional palimpsest. Malls and WhatsApp and memes feel alien in this novel's landscape. They serve no purpose other than being the designated markers of contemporaneity. Not that they have to serve any purpose. But, there's too much plastic garbage contrived into this story. But complaints apart, every issue she talks about IS actually relevant. Every single thing she complains about is making the lives of millions miserable. The day after I read about a Hindu mob lynching a man carrying the carcass of a cow (dead of natural causes) for killing-it-to-consume-it in this novel, an eerily similar event made the national headlines. We don't have any single intellectual in India who is famous across the country, who doesn't have prejudices against the North or the South, who is liberal in his views, who has international celebrity, who actually cares for the downtrodden and dares to oppose any giant power not fearing the consequences. Arundhati Roy is the closest we have to such an icon. She doesn't stop with merely talking about these issues. She protests with and for the oppressed. She screams because we've chosen to ignore their cries for too long and because she has one of the few voices that are heard. But stacking one issue upon another without giving much importance to the emotional quotient ironically leads us to be inured to the very issues that were supposed to draw some kind of response from us. Some magazine called Ministry "a fascinating mess" and there's no better way to put it. Tiring, perplexing and enraging at times; it is also funny, moving, memorable and horrifying. Like most things in this world, a binary good/bad classification would fail here and we gotta accept that it's a mixed bag. In these merciless, solipsistic times it is rare to find voices bursting with concerns about fellow humans and that's exactly why this book is to be treasured, fractured and disorderly though it may be.
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  • Mahima
    January 1, 1970
    How to tell a shattered story? By slowly becoming everybody. No. By slowly becoming everything.I’ve always said that nothing can break my heart like Indian writing can. I realised that first while reading Roy’s first book, and it still holds true. The reason behind this, I think, is that Indian writing for me is more personal, more intimate, more close than any other writing can be. It’s much, much more than just fiction, just literature, which is why reading it as just that is not possible for How to tell a shattered story? By slowly becoming everybody. No. By slowly becoming everything.I’ve always said that nothing can break my heart like Indian writing can. I realised that first while reading Roy’s first book, and it still holds true. The reason behind this, I think, is that Indian writing for me is more personal, more intimate, more close than any other writing can be. It’s much, much more than just fiction, just literature, which is why reading it as just that is not possible for me. Consequently, I cannot critique it as just that either. So, although I want to give it 5 stars, I’m settling on 4 (earlier it was 4.5 – do you see how conflicted I am?), because that seems fair to me. It is not as perfect as The God of Small Things was, in many ways, and I do recognize and acknowledge all its flaws, which are more than just one or two, but it still did break my heart in ten different ways, so I can’t detract more than that from it.Roy’s story is not just one story. It is a plethora of stories brought together in a courageous, rambling, sprawling, poetic attempt that doesn’t, I admit, manage to hold them together at all times. But it is breathtakingly beautiful, not right at the surface beautiful, but subtly beautiful – given the shattered lives it attempts to bring together that’s the only kind of beautiful it can be. And it’s beyond powerful – as all postcolonial Indian writing tends to be – juxtaposing the political and the personal. Beginning as the story of Anjum, an Old Delhi Hijra (a transwoman), it goes on encompass within its folds many other characters and many other stories, all of which are woven in the political fabric of India, all of them the symbolic manifestation of some resistance movement in India, the most prominent of them to be seen with the backdrop of the history of communal violence in India and the outcry for Azadi in Kashmir. Roy knows the complexities of all of these movements in India, there is no black and white, nor does she attempt to paint a monochromatic picture. What she does is bring all these shattered stories and characters together in an attempt to create a Duniya (world) away from the real Duniya, one which is made up of love, not hatred, a magical-realism-esque world in which the living and the dead almost live together, a world which, if given the chance, could mend all the gaping wounds of the shattered people that inhabit it.Her characterization is poignantly beautiful – giving depth to each and every character, and making it impossible for the reader to not sympathise, if not empathise, with them (I loved Musa more than I can say). Her evocation of Urdu (which, by the way, is the most beautiful language to me) poetry every once in a while only added to the book’s beauty. As did the descriptions of Purani Dilli (Old Delhi) which made me nostalgic for the 15 years of my life I’ve spent there. And, of course, her writing, though a little raw, is just as poetically prosaic as I expected it to be.There are, of course, some flaws, the most significant of them being that the two main strands of the story do not fully come together, or stick together once they have. The story, all of a sudden, takes a completely different turn, leaving you wondering what just happened. But it grows on you, even this flaw. Why? Because this is a story for the unconsoled, as the dedication of the book points out. It’s not just fiction; it’s a balm that could console us, the unconsoled. It is intimate, it is personal, it is Indian – it is ours. It is what we needed. It is what I needed.
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  • Kathleen
    January 1, 1970
    “Surplus mothers perched like sparrows on the debris of what used to be their homes and sang their surplus children to sleep.”Arundhati Roy has a bedtime story voice. My father told legendary bedtime stories. A good storyteller can paint a world for you to step into, and a good bedtime storyteller does it in a way that--even in tales of evil and dragons--makes you feel safe. As you close your eyes and put down your guard, their voice can actually carry you through the tale. It’s the beauty of th “Surplus mothers perched like sparrows on the debris of what used to be their homes and sang their surplus children to sleep.”Arundhati Roy has a bedtime story voice. My father told legendary bedtime stories. A good storyteller can paint a world for you to step into, and a good bedtime storyteller does it in a way that--even in tales of evil and dragons--makes you feel safe. As you close your eyes and put down your guard, their voice can actually carry you through the tale. It’s the beauty of the prose, but it’s also the attitude behind it: gentle and loving, like a parent imparting a meaningful fable--not to scare their children, but rather to speak to their hearts.Arundhati Roy speaks to the reader’s heart in this story.The region of Jammu and Kashmir is located at the northernmost part of the Indian subcontinent, bordering India, Pakistan, China, Afghanistan and Russia. Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sufis, Sikhs, the British and the UN, among others, have fought over power there, and struggles continue. It is a place of wars and agreements, fraud and corruption, treaties and terrorism. It is known as the Switzerland of the East, however, and immense beauty exists to contrast the ugliness: Himalayan valleys, flowering trees, dramatic seasons. Paradise.I heard Roy explain in an interview that the Paradise Guest House of this story is paradise in a graveyard, whereas Kashmir--paradise--is covered in graves.Unspeakable things have happened there. Yet they are spoken of in this story.“There were too many of them to be killed outright. Instead, their homes, their doors and windows, their makeshift roofs, their pots and pans, their plates, their spoons, their school-leaving certificates, their ration cards, their marriage certificates, their children’s schools, their lifetime’s work, the expression in their eyes, were flattened by yellow bulldozers imported from Australia. (Ditch Witch, they were called, the ‘dozers.) They were State-of-the-Art machines. They could flatten history and stack it up like building material.”In some parts of this, I didn’t so much read, as fall in and swim around. Some sections were difficult to get through. Some were hard to stomach. Always, I was carried through by the dazzling beauty of the writing, safe in that bedtime story voice. I’m still contemplating the exact ways, but I know I come away from this novel changed.“What we have on our hands is a species problem. None of us is exempt.”The story has a beautiful ending, a mythological ending. A perfect ending to a bedtime story.
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