Wednesday, September 20, 2017


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The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Arundhati Roy, Alfred A Knopf, 2017, 444 pp
Summary from Goodreads: The Ministry of Utmost Happiness takes us on an intimate journey of many years across the Indian subcontinent - from the cramped neighborhoods of Old Delhi and the roads of the new city to the mountains and valleys of Kashmir and beyond, where war is peace and peace is war.

It is an aching love story and a decisive remonstration, a story told in a whisper, in a shout, through unsentimental tears and sometimes with a bitter laugh. Each of its characters is indelibly, tenderly rendered. Its heroes are people who have been broken by the world they live in and then rescued, patched together by acts of love - and by hope.

The tale begins with Anjum - who used to be Aftab - unrolling a threadbare Persian carpet in a city graveyard she calls home. We encounter the odd, unforgettable Tilo and the men who loved her - including Musa, sweetheart and ex-sweetheart, lover and ex-lover; their fates are as entwined as their arms used to be and always will be. We meet Tilo's landlord, a former suitor, now an intelligence officer posted to Kabul. And then we meet the two Miss Jebeens: the first a child born in Srinagar and buried in its overcrowded Martyrs' Graveyard; the second found at midnight, abandoned on a concrete sidewalk in the heart of New Delhi.

As this ravishing, deeply humane novel braids these lives together, it reinvents what a novel can do and can be. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness demonstrates on every page the miracle of Arundhati Roy's storytelling gifts.
My Review:
I was so eager to read this novel and the waiting list at the library was so long. In a fit of splurging on books I bought the hardcover.
Arundhati Roy is not an American writer and her two novels are nothing like American mainstream fiction. Nothing like them except for the exceptional power of her storytelling.
I am not going to talk about the plot or the characters. Read the summary if you want that. You still won't have any clue about why her new novel is so wonderful or even what it is really about.
My impression is it is about people whose lives and hearts get broken by the various upheavals that seem to go on forever in India. Here we sit in America moaning and groaning about our President, the state of our politics and our divided nation, but really we have no idea how lucky we are.
Much of the story takes place in a graveyard. The rest takes place in Kashmir where war is a continuous fact of life. Actually you could say that the Indian government and the Kashmiri rebels and the feuding Hindus and Muslims are all doing their best to turn Kashmir into a graveyard.
A graveyard is an appropriate image for our times as the human race does its utmost to render our entire planet into one. But what beats through this somewhat challenging novel is love in just about every configuration possible. I think that is Arundhati Roy's particular strength. Whether she is writing novels or political essays, it is the passions of individual humans that she delineates. Isn't it true, she seems to say, that our politics is another version of the passions that drive existence? 
(The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is available in various formats by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.) 


  1. Beautiful review; the novel though, seems complex.

    1. Thank you Carmen. I think the complexity of the story is due to the cultural difference and to a lack of knowledge (at least on my part, going in) of history in India. I used the internet to learn about what has gone on in Kashmir and that helped greatly. By the end of the book I felt I had spent time in that culturally different place and it no longer seemed so foreign.

  2. I'm closing in on this one in my reading queue. Looking forward to reaching it soon.

    1. I look forward to your review! I am guessing you will like it.

  3. So you splurged for the hardback. Curious how many books you buy vs. get at the library? It is nice having one's own copy at times though these days I get most at the library. I would like to read Roy again. but I think I want to revisit her first one -- first. Nice job finishing this complex one.

    1. I get most of my books from the library except when I need one sooner. Then I either buy the actual book or get an ebook. Ebooks are usually for ones I "must" read for a reading group but am not that excited about.
      Many of my friends are opting to reread The God of Small Things first. I just had to dive right in!