Review 1330: The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

Cover for The Ministry of Utmost HappinessTwenty years after Arundhati Roy’s transcendent The God of Small Things, she has written another work of fiction. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness deals with varied characters and sources of unrest in India, though, rather than the unhappiness of a single family.

The novel begins in roughly the 1950’s Delhi with Aftab, the only son of his Muslim family. Aftab was born a hermaphrodite, and his parents decided he would be a boy. Aftab, however, feels he is a girl, so in his teens he joins the hijras of Shahjahanabad, a group of transexuals and transvestites who are mostly sex workers. Aftab becomes Anjum.

Roy follows Anjum’s adventures for nearly half the book, during which time India is rocked by several eras of attacks on its Muslim communities. Eventually, as an older woman who feels that the affections of her adopted daughter have been lured away from her, Anjum moves away from the hijras to live in a graveyard and befriend a host of misfits.

With the appearance of a second unwanted baby, Roy’s narrative goes off in an entirely different direction, which does not seem to tie up with the previous story for some time. Instead we have the story of the friendship between Tilo, Naga, and Musa, a Christian-raised girl and two boys. Musa eventually becomes a revolutionary fighting for the freedom of Kashmir. Roy’s book is angry as she documents abuses of power by the Indian government on relatively innocent citizens who are not Hindu.

Frankly, it’s hard to know what to make of this novel, which seems to be all in pieces and has too easy of an ending. One key to it is a poem written by Tilo at the end of the novel. “How to tell a shattered story? By slowly becoming everybody. No. By slowly becoming everything.” Well, this novel feels like Roy tried to cover everything, with many characters, many forms of narration, many stories.

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7 thoughts on “Review 1330: The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

  1. Davida Chazan March 21, 2019 / 2:42 am

    I remember reading her previous book and while I liked it, it was also a bit all over the place. I guess that’s her style. But her writing is beautiful.

    • whatmeread March 21, 2019 / 2:47 am

      Yes, but this one was even more all over the place. I somehow wasn’t as captured by it.

  2. Diana @ Thoughts on Papyrus March 21, 2019 / 4:56 am

    Thanks for this review. I cherish The God of Small Things and think it is a literally masterpiece, but I am not tempted to pick up this book of Roy. The story does not appeal to me, and I am sure I will also find it all over the place/messy.

    • whatmeread March 21, 2019 / 11:49 am

      Sometimes reviews help me decide whether to read a book or not, too.

  3. Naomi March 25, 2019 / 5:10 pm

    I love the title of this book, but I’m not sure if I’ll ever read it. I’m still more tempted by her previous book, which I haven’t read yet either.

      • Naomi March 25, 2019 / 5:59 pm

        I really should!

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