Review: The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy

April 10, 2018
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Arundhati Roy, Book Review, InToriLex
Published By: Hamish Hamilton on June 6, 2017
Format Read: Hardcover (464 pages)
Genre: Historical Fiction / Contemporary/ Own Voices
Series: Stand Alone
Source: Purchased
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness
How to tell a shattered story?

By slowly becoming everybody.


By slowly becoming everything.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness takes us on a journey of many years – the story spooling outwards from the cramped neighbourhoods of Old Delhi into the burgeoning new metropolis and beyond, to the Valley of Kashmir and the forests of Central India, where war is peace and peace is war, and where, from time to time, ‘normalcy’ is declared.

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.


Content Warning: Rape, Torture, Physical Violence, Genocide


Anjum is a hijra, neither man or woman and she must overcome the heavy stigma and dangerous lifestyle that comes with being an outsider. Through her eyes we are thrust into a bleak world where poverty, corruption and tragedy is everywhere.In the second third of the book we are introduced to three protagonists Tilo, Musa, Naga, and "Garson Hobart", who met at university. Tilo is a fierce young woman who is loved by three men. She learns  to use their allegiance to her advantage when the love is not reciprocal.Tilo and Anjum's plots converge after they find a unclaimed newborn baby. The baby brings them together and is a testament to the power of rebellion. The last third of the book focuses on the conflicts in Kashmir.

I learned after talking about this book with a Indian friend that while this is fiction; the corrupt politics, genocide and backward thinking described India's history in accurate ways. While the characters  weren't real, their fear, danger and pain echoed what really happened. The graphic descriptions of tragedy were bearable because of the beautiful writing and the empathy the author created for the characters.
"We sit here like caged animals, and the government feeds us useless little pieces of hope through the bars of this iron railing. Not enough to live on, but just enough to keep us from dying."
The book changes perspectives between men and women finding ways to survive and cope with the state of ruin they live in. The book spans thirty years. The array of characters and location changes was confusing at times. Although the plot is slow moving, the emotional impact and writing resonated with me. I happily kept reading intrigued by the different ways people grapple with their trauma. I leaned more about Indian spirituality, customs and politics then I ever had. The breadth and expansiveness of the narrative reflects that it took ten years to write. This was a tome of insight, I thoroughly enjoyed.
"Normality on our part of the world is a bit like a boiled egg: its humdrum surface reveals at its heart a yolk of egregious violence."
Recommended for readers who 
-enjoy historical fiction
-enjoy character driven stories
-appreciate emotionally charged and heartbreaking reads
-can stomach graphic physical and sexual violence


Arundhati Roy is the author of a number of books, including The God of Small Things, which won the Booker Prize in 1997 and has been translated into more than forty languages. She was born in 1959 in Shillong, India, and studied architecture in Delhi, where she now lives. She has also written several non-fiction books, including Field Notes on Democracy, Walking with the Comrades, Capitalism: A Ghost Story, The End of Imagination, and most recently Things That Can and Cannot Be Said, co-authored with John Cusack. Roy is the recipient of the 2002 Lannan Foundation Cultural Freedom Prize, the 2011 Norman Mailer Prize for Distinguished Writing, and the 2015 Ambedkar Sudar award. 

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