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Book Review – The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness

The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy (Random House) ISBN: 9781524733155

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is the much-anticipated second novel from the author of The God of Small Things (1997), which won the Booker Prize. Roy again demonstrates her literary prowess in her second novel.

The setting is India amidst turbulent civil war in the late 1990s/early 2000s. The country’s political landscape sets the scenes in which colourful characters narrate separate but connected stories. From Anjum, a transgender person who lives in a graveyard, through Tilo and the three men who love her, to a jovial, evil army general, and an assortment of addicts, orphans, and miscreants, each chapter recounts a tale from a particular perspective and in a unique voice. An omniscient narrator maintains the thread.

I would be hard pressed to explain what this book is “about”. Its beauty lies in its language and the astonishingly in-depth back-stories that accompany the characters – although I occasionally battled reconnecting with characters based on names unfamiliar to me. India’s hijra (transgender) community is fascinating and these characters entertain and endure. The characters’ roles in and experiences of war provided an informative modern history lesson about India about which I was ignorant.

This novel is like a stranger you sit next to at a bus-stop, who begins to speak and before you know it, you’re engrossed. It’s hard work but satisfying.

Deborah Minors