The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

I, like many readers of this book, am a fan of God of Small Things. It was one of the first books I came across as a young Indian reader. It was one of the only books that made its way from India to the US when my family emigrated in the last 90s. I’ve also followed Arundhati Roy’s nonfiction writing and political commentary in the past decade while becoming a political aware global citizen myself. All of this is context to explain why I was so sorely disappointed by The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.

There are big chunks of this book that are highly compelling. Anjum’s experience at Khwabga, for example, was beautifully drawn and something I would’ve loved to read an entire book about. Some descriptions of Tilo’s time in Kashmir were also interesting, but more as a journalistic exercise than a novelistic exercise.

It is clear that the last two decades of Roy’s life have been filled with interesting experience in and around India’s political life. Her knowledge of the conflict in Kashmir, riots, looting and violence in Gujarat, and the plight of minorities is unquestionable. But a set of knowledge or expertise doesn’t make for a compelling novel all on its own. Even combined with a great writer, like Roy, this wasn’t enough to draw me into the book. I often found myself lost in a sea of characters, unsure about timelines and plotlines, wondering about connections between characters and losing threads that were started in one place and not really tied up. I also wondered how readers who aren’t Hindi speakers, or familiar with Indian politics, history or culture would experience this book. Roy does not filter or hold back all sorts of references to life in India. Most of the references make sense in context, but many are difficult to truly grasp for the unfamiliar.

I’m happy to continue showing up for Roy’s writing - fiction or otherwise. I just hope for better stories the next time.