Author – Arundhati Roy
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. – Goodreads Synopsis
I’ll come right out and say that my biggest gripe with this novel was how the plot was structured. The story is so dense, with so much going on, so powerful, that it takes a lot of concentration (at least for a dumb dumb like me) and where there is no clear line connecting these things it burns you out quickly. It took me much longer to finish the novel than I would have liked because of this. (and zero work life balance). It doesn’t help that in the first hundred or so (maybe even the first few) pages there are so many characters that get introduced. It did not help that they were also introduced alongside all of these places that I have never heard of and could not even pronounce correctly!
Anjum is the anchor to the story, but how I felt when reading this book was if someone was trying to film a movie and they just let the camera go wherever it took them. It bounced from place to place, person to person, and not for any reason. Most people pay attention to ever detail trying to expect some “Chekhov’s gun” to show up later, but this is not the case with “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness“.
While plot is very important to my overall enjoyment of reading through a story, there are many redeeming qualities throughout the rest of “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness” that make up for it.
The prose is beautiful. Clearly Arundhati Roy is a masterful architect of putting words together. The sentences, the paragraphs, the dialogues (internal and external), just flow with each other in brilliant harmony. At times the language does feel over the top, and “trying-to-hard” to be intellectual, but all of that worked out for my experience.
My favorite aspect of this novel is just the pure rawness of how it is written. Roy does not hold back any punches, and really just tells it like it is. She does not dance around certain topics and try to church them up with any fancy euphemisms which feels extremely relieving to me. This is the perfect kind of story to tell in the way that Roy wrote it. The rawness adds to the authenticity which really promotes the points she is trying to make.
Behind the words, behind the plot, there are messages that Arundhati Roy is trying to show. These are indeed powerful messages that are currently hot topics that are exploding around the world right now. I am very for all of the freedoms that should be given to every group that is represented in “The Minstry of Utmost Happiness“, but it does feel like the book was written just to get these points across.
It is very important to get these messages across though. More works like this need to be created and shared with the world to move the needle with issues that should be resolved by now.
This was not my favorite book but I did enjoy parts of it. I like to switch up the things that I read every once in a while to get more exposure to what is going on outside of my normal science fiction / fantasy life. This book did just that, and I am glad that Bhagyashree suggested that we read it. I do love to learn about new cultures and ways of living, and this book reminded me that I new to explore more of that.
Could I recommend reading it? Only if you go into knowing that you are not going to find a story with a strong plot. This book is definitely not for everyone.
(Did you see how all my headings started with the same letter! Yeah…that was cool.)