Summary and book reviews of The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

by Arundhati Roy

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy X
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2017, 464 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2018, 464 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte

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About this Book

Book Summary

A dazzling, richly moving new novel by the internationally celebrated author of The God of Small Things.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness takes us on an intimate journey of many years across the Indian subcontinent - from the cramped neighborhoods of Old Delhi and the roads of the new city to the mountains and valleys of Kashmir and beyond, where war is peace and peace is war.

It is an aching love story and a decisive remonstration, a story told in a whisper, in a shout, through unsentimental tears and sometimes with a bitter laugh. Each of its characters is indelibly, tenderly rendered. Its heroes are people who have been broken by the world they live in and then rescued, patched together by acts of love - and by hope.

The tale begins with Anjum - who used to be Aftab - unrolling a threadbare Persian carpet in a city graveyard she calls home. We encounter the odd, unforgettable Tilo and the men who loved her - including Musa, sweetheart and ex-sweetheart, lover and ex-lover; their fates are as entwined as their arms used to be and always will be. We meet Tilo's landlord, a former suitor, now an intelligence officer posted to Kabul. And then we meet the two Miss Jebeens: the first a child born in Srinagar and buried in its overcrowded Martyrs' Graveyard; the second found at midnight, abandoned on a concrete sidewalk in the heart of New Delhi.

As this ravishing, deeply humane novel braids these lives together, it reinvents what a novel can do and can be. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness demonstrates on every page the miracle of Arundhati Roy's storytelling gifts.

Excerpt
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

She was the fourth of five children, born on a cold January night, by lamplight (power cut), in Shahjahanabad, the walled city of Delhi. Ahlam Baji, the midwife who delivered her and put her in her mother's arms wrapped in two shawls, said, "It's a boy." Given the circumstances, her error was understandable.

A month into her first pregnancy Jahanara Begum and her husband decided that if their baby was a boy they would name him Aftab. Their first three children were girls. They had been waiting for their Aftab for six years. The night he was born was the happiest of Jahanara Begum's life.

The next morning, when the sun was up and the room nice and warm, she unswaddled little Aftab. She explored his tiny body—eyes nose head neck armpits fingers toes—with sated, unhurried delight. That was when she discovered, nestling underneath his boy-parts, a small, unformed, but undoubtedly girl-part.

Is it possible for a mother to be ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The novel opens with a vignette describing the mysterious death of vultures—and how "not many noticed the passing of the friendly old birds" (page 5). How does this occurrence set the stage and tone for the rest of the novel with regard to the state of India's society and the unrest that the characters experience within themselves and with the outside world? How does that mood transition into the graveyard setting of the first part of the book?
  2. Discuss the complications of Aftab's upbringing and his parents' reactions to their child's gender. What does the family dynamic suggest about the role that biology plays in determining one's true family versus an individual's ability to create or choose one's ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is a welcome addition to Roy’s fiction, even if it sometimes staggers under the yoke of its hefty political ambitions. Readers who don't know the subcontinent’s history needn’t worry, Roy’s prose is eloquent enough to paper over unfamiliar territory, even if the novel does sag in the middle as Roy tries to find her footing and corral the disparate story threads into a cohesive whole. Ultimately, ardent Roy fans won’t be disappointed, although they might grumble that twenty years was much too long of a wait. This exploration of history’s everyday machinations might be unruly at times but it’s also visceral, passionate and, at the best of times, entirely dazzling.   (Reviewed by Poornima Apte).

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Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Ambitious, original, and haunting ... Sweeping, intricate, and sometimes topical, the novel's complexity feels essential to Roy's vision of a bewilderingly beautiful, contradictory, and broken world.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. An assured novel borne along by a swiftly moving storyline that addresses the most profound issues with elegant humor.

Booklist

Starred Review. A masterpiece...Roy joins Dickens, Naipaul, García Márquez, and Rushdie in her abiding compassion, storytelling magic, and piquant wit...A tale of suffering, sacrifice and transcendence - an entrancing, imaginative, and wrenching epic.

Reader Reviews

Cloggie Downunder

a moving and powerful read.
“Their wounds were too old and too new, too different, and perhaps too deep, for healing. But for a fleeting moment, they were able to pool them like accumulated gambling debts and share the pain equally, without naming injuries or asking which was ...   Read More

Ursula Swamy

A highly-overated book - not literature at all
II recently read the novel The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy. I found the book to be immature in its writing, poor prose and the stories within do not cohere. If it is magical realism then her writing needs to be vastly improved. I ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Origins of the Kashmir Dispute

Kashmir MapThe Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan occupies center stage in The Ministry of Utmost Happiness and is a conflict that traces its roots back to the Indo-Pak partition (for more about the partition, see Beyond the Book for An Unrestored Woman).

When the British left India in 1947, Kashmir was not an Indian state, but was instead one of hundreds of smaller independent princely states. each with their own rulers, who swore loyalty to the British empire. As the British Raj withdrew, these princely states had to make the complicated decision as to whether to become a part of either India or Pakistan, or become independent countries. Most that were within contemporary India's borders chose to become a sovereign part of the ...

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