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The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

by Arundhati Roy

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,686488,818 (3.51)101
"A richly moving new novel--the first since the author's Booker Prize-winning, internationally celebrated debut, The God of Small Things, went on to become a beloved best seller and enduring classic. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness transports us across a subcontinent on a journey of many years. It takes us deep into the lives of its gloriously rendered characters, each of them in search of a place of safety--in search of meaning, and of love. In a graveyard outside the walls of Old Delhi, a resident unrolls a threadbare Persian carpet. On a concrete sidewalk, a baby suddenly appears, just after midnight. In a snowy valley, a bereaved father writes a letter to his five-year-old daughter about the people who came to her funeral. In a second-floor apartment, a lone woman chain-smokes as she reads through her old notebooks. At the Jannat Guest House, two people who have known each other all their lives sleep with their arms wrapped around each other, as though they have just met. A braided narrative of astonishing force and originality, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is at once a love story and a provocation--a novel as inventive as it is emotionally engaging. It is told with a whisper, in a shout, through joyous tears and sometimes with a bitter laugh. Its heroes, both present and departed, have been broken by the world we live in--and then mended by love. For this reason, they will never surrender. How to tell a shattered story? By slowly becoming everybody. No. By slowly becoming everything. Humane and sensuous, beautifully told, this extraordinary novel demonstrates on every page the miracle of Arundhati Roy's storytelling gifts"-- "An epic novel of love and history and the perseverance of the human spirit in the face of loss and tragedy"--… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 43 (next | show all)
It is hard to boil this book down to a succinct summary. There are two primary storylines. The first is about Anjum, born Aftab, an intersexual individual, reared as male, but who inclines to female. She faces many challenges as a hiira. The second is told by Tilo, an architect with many relationship partners, one of whom is wanted for terrorism. This book hits on numerous social issues in India from partition to present. It is less a novel than the author’s examination these issues.

I enjoyed Anjum’s story. It is easy to empathize with her. If the entire book had been about her life, I would have probably loved it. The writing is solid in terms of the forms of expression, the breadth of language, and flow. This book has spurred me to read more non-fiction to learn more about India’s political situation and internal conflicts.

The structure of this book did not work for me. Tilo seems to come out of nowhere and derailed my interest in Anjum’s story. I could not discern an overarching plot. It comes across as scattered, even rambling at times. For example, there is literally an A to Z list of terms one would find in a Kashmiri to English dictionary. I normally like character-driven narratives, but in this case, many characters seem to exist to serve as illustrations of political points or historical atrocities the author is trying to highlight. I loved The God of Small Things but the best I can say about this book is that it is okay.
( )
  Castlelass | Oct 30, 2022 |
I couldn't get into this. The characters were interesting, but the book just rambled with lots of little tangents and it's hard to keep track of what is important to the plot and what isn't, or even whether there is a plot at all.
  Gwendydd | Aug 6, 2022 |
Arundhati Roy's second novel, coming twenty years after her Booker winning debut, The God of Small Things, has likewise had mixed reviews. But The Ministry of Utmost Happiness was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2017 and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction in January 2018, so it has admirers to be taken seriously.

In 2020 I retrieved my review of The God of Small Things from 'the archive' and published it here on the blog so you can see that I was not among the naysayers. But in tackling a review of The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, I have to admit that I did not always know what was going on in the novel...

However, I never once considered abandoning it. It is the kind of book that casts a spell on its readers...

I had cut out and kept from the Reviews section of The Weekend Australian Sunil Badami's somewhat churlish 2017 review of Ministry titled 'Voice of Righteous Anger lost in the Indian Crowd', and so I sought enlightenment from it when I got lost after Roy summarily abandoned her central character mid novel. She had launched into a first person narrative without making it clear who this new narrator was. The review confirmed that the confusion was not entirely my fault and noted that Roy 'claims' not to revise or edit her work. Notice that snarky word 'claims'? Interesting choice on the reviewer's part, I thought, but he makes his position (and his Indian credentials) clear:
But given Roy's claims that she never revises or edits her work, many might say that having so over-spiced the masala and having thrown everything into the pot, without tasting it first, she's rendered something, sweet spot aside, is largely unpalatable and ultimately indigestible. (Weekend Australian, July 15-16, 2017.)
Well, I don't agree.

The first part of the novel is narrated somewhat wryly in the third person to introduce the intriguing story of Anjum. Anjum was born Aftab, and after botched attempts by his mother and a dodgy surgeon to render him 'normal', Anjum takes matters into her own hands and becomes Anjum in a hijra community called Khwabgah. She fosters a girl called Zainab but things go badly awry when Anjum gets caught up in the endemic violence that plagues India, and she makes a new home for herself in a graveyard, along with a man who has responded to the violence that befell his family by renaming himself Saddam Hussain, because he admires the dignity with which Saddam met his death by hanging. (The novel is full of shards of detail like this, showing that the whole world does not necessarily view events the way that the west does.) (It is also full of bits of back stories, so you don't necessarily know what's what at the time you'd like to know it.)

To read the rest of my review please visit https://anzlitlovers.com/2022/02/06/the-ministry-of-utmost-happiness-by-arundhat... ( )
  anzlitlovers | Feb 6, 2022 |
All India is here: the hijras, the poverty, the middle class, the corruption, the politics, the interminable problem of Kashmir, the double-dealing of the secret service. The confused chronology lost me: we keep going back 20 years, or forward 25 years; one incident is told twice from two different angles. For a non-Indian, people's names are confusing: I would have liked a dramatic personae. An "I" appears in the middle of the book, but is not central to the story. In fact, it's impossible to summarise the story, there are so many sub-themes.
  jgoodwll | Dec 12, 2021 |
It’s always difficult to comment on Roy’s works. The God of Small Things was a fantastic read, telling a story of interesting characters who have had dreadful things done to them. That formula can only work once though, with later works losing the magic and charm, as evidenced by Khaled Hosseini’s books. The same thing happens here in The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, but truth be told, there’s still some magic in there to hold your interest.

Roy’s political affiliations and biases shine—nay burn—through the story. She weaves a narrative that covers almost all of the sociopolitical spectrum in the Indian subcontinent. First off, we have the struggle of the hijras told through Aftab/Anjum. That’s intertwined with the struggles of Old Delhi (and nationwide too) Muslims, especially focusing on the aftermath of the Gujarat riots. Then of course, we have the trinity of lovers – Naga, Musa, Biplob – and their love interest: Tilo. Through them we get both sides of the Kashmir conflict, though we veer straight into the pro-Kashmir territory as the narrative winds down. In between all this, minor characters come and go with their own agendas highlighting minor issues.

Roy handles Anjum’s narrative quite brilliantly, and I was wholly invested in her character by the end. Tilo and her hopelessly broken lovers, not so much. Their conflict felt forced but never uninteresting though. However, moving from the struggles of hijras to something as sensitive and significant as the Kashmir issue felt a bit unbalanced. The story suffers as a result, never really finding its rhythm in the sea of characters that are paraded about near the end.

Don’t get me wrong though. I loved the sub-stories, especially the Kashmir ones. I felt deeply saddened by how the conflict had affected the people of the region. As a matter of fact, Gulkak’s story resonated the most with me. However, all that felt overshadowed—heh, almost upstaged even—by Anjum’s arc. She, and her surrounding characters, paints a far more interesting picture of India.

Thing is, it’s a great book that’s dragged down in some chapters by unnecessary details that often derail your interest in the main arc. Roy’s writing has a magnetic quality about it, catching you in its dragnet of sociopolitical issues that need to be discussed. If that’s up your alley, then definitely give it a read. If you’re looking for something concise, look elsewhere. ( )
  bdgamer | Sep 10, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 43 (next | show all)
This review gives order and intelligence to the spectrum of bad reviews about this mysterious book. This book contains a secret code of mystical nature, and must be read several times. Attainment is as good as the trouble inflicted in the lifetime of the protagonist....Read on
 
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Epigraph
I mean, it's all a matter of your heart...
Nâzim Hikmet
In what language does rain fall / over tormented cities?
Pablo Neruda
Death flies in, thin bureaucrat, from the plains--
--Agha Shahid Ali
Then, as she had already died four or five times, the apartment had remained available for a drama more serious than her own death.
--Jean Genet
And they would not believe me precisely because they would know that what I said was true.
--James Baldwin
Dedication
To,
The Unconsoled
First words
At magic hour, when the sun has 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.
I
WHERE DO OLD BIRDS GO TO DIE?
She lived in the graveyard like a tree.
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The moment I saw her, a part of me walked out of my body and wrapped itself around her. And there is still remains. (Page 256)
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"A richly moving new novel--the first since the author's Booker Prize-winning, internationally celebrated debut, The God of Small Things, went on to become a beloved best seller and enduring classic. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness transports us across a subcontinent on a journey of many years. It takes us deep into the lives of its gloriously rendered characters, each of them in search of a place of safety--in search of meaning, and of love. In a graveyard outside the walls of Old Delhi, a resident unrolls a threadbare Persian carpet. On a concrete sidewalk, a baby suddenly appears, just after midnight. In a snowy valley, a bereaved father writes a letter to his five-year-old daughter about the people who came to her funeral. In a second-floor apartment, a lone woman chain-smokes as she reads through her old notebooks. At the Jannat Guest House, two people who have known each other all their lives sleep with their arms wrapped around each other, as though they have just met. A braided narrative of astonishing force and originality, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is at once a love story and a provocation--a novel as inventive as it is emotionally engaging. It is told with a whisper, in a shout, through joyous tears and sometimes with a bitter laugh. Its heroes, both present and departed, have been broken by the world we live in--and then mended by love. For this reason, they will never surrender. How to tell a shattered story? By slowly becoming everybody. No. By slowly becoming everything. Humane and sensuous, beautifully told, this extraordinary novel demonstrates on every page the miracle of Arundhati Roy's storytelling gifts"-- "An epic novel of love and history and the perseverance of the human spirit in the face of loss and tragedy"--

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