The Ministry of Utmost Happiness – Book Review

Where I, a person with no legitimate literary qualifications, pass my judgement on books I read.

Written by Arundhati Roy

The Plot:

The story begins with a tale of a Anjum, a transgender born in Old Delhi. Through a web of characters from different parts of the country, as well as different generations, and various political movements, Roy weaves together the story of modern India.

What I thought:

As I have described in my previous blog post, I had been eagerly waiting for this book for years.

As ever, Roy shows an unparalleled brilliance in the way she puts together her story. What I like the most about her writing is how she makes tiny minute details, like an insect or a tree, as much a part of her narrative as the main characters. What I did miss, however, is the vivid imagery she seemed to be adept at conjuring with her words 20 years back.

The canvas of this book was quiet large. To describe the whole of India and it’s political situation at any given point of time is not an easy task. To capture more than two decades of it through fiction.. needless to say that it would not do justice to the country of a billion people.

But then again, it was pretty clear that she took her audience back home for granted (and as a devoted fan, I am hurt that she did that). Some portions of the book felt like she went out of the way to explain herself to the foreign audience. It took the nativeness out of the book.

The ending was a little abrupt, especially after the urgency of the rest of the book. I was hoping for the book to give me puffy eyes from crying. There is no such intense heartbreak moment, just a few drops of tears at places. What she describes is  the India I live, so it made me think, and the heartbreak is slow, and more long lasting.

In an attempt to describe the country’s political developments, the characters have not gotten enough space to develop. The backdrop in itself became the story. It may not be a bad thing, but I picked the book up for fiction so the characters were more important to me.

Perhaps the fact that the book ended with some semblance of hope did not work well with me. I like stories to end badly.

Too much of Roy’s past non-fiction work has influenced this one.

About the whether or not her facts are correct, I would suggest that you look things up. Because there were some parts where even I – a person with almost zero GK – could sense discrepancies.

Having said all this, I would still rate this book as among the best out there, for the writing. In spite of all her so-called ‘anti-national’ stand that some present-day media channels love to highlight, the underlying idea of the book is an India unified, not through the staunch saffron-clad worshippers of the state and its government, but despite them.

Dissent, rebellion and internal struggles brings the characters all together at the heart of the largest democracy of the world – Dilli.

Things you should know:

The novel took more than 20 years to complete, and is Arundhati Roy’s second work of fiction. Her first, God of Small Things, had won the Booker Prize.

Who should read this:

  • Indians, to get a perspective on events in the far reaches of the country.

Who should not read this:

  • If you are looking for a modern history lesson on India, this one will not exactly put forward the absolutely accurate, balance picture.

Thanks for reading!

Read my previous review here: Kafka on The Shore, by Haruki Murakami