Indian author and political rights activist Arundhati Roy is set to release her second work of fiction, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, this summer after a 20-year hiatus from fiction writing.
Roy’s first novel, The God of Small Things, was released in 1997 to critical acclaim and won the Booker Prize.
The God of Small Things follows fraternal twins, Rahel and Esthappen (Estha), in a beautiful, yet devastating look at society in southern India. The novel examines a dysfunctional family with many hidden secrets.
As you read through The God of Small Things, you are struck with a sense of foreboding that doesn’t leave; you know something bad is going to happen, but you never know what or when these events will occur. Through Rahel and Estha, the reader slowly uncovers the truth behind the darkness that shrouds the novel. Through abuse, death, and corruption, we learn about the social hierarchy of India. The caste system, class politics, traditions, political unrest, and corruption are all explored through the eyes of two children who know more than they let on.
They all crossed into forbidden territory. They all tampered with the laws that lay down who should be loved and how. And how much.
The year is 1969. In the state of Kerala, on the southernmost tip of India, fraternal twins Esthappen and Rahel fashion a childhood for themselves in the shade of the wreck that is their family. Their lonely, lovely mother, Ammu, (who loves by night the man her children love by day), fled an abusive marriage to live with their blind grandmother, Mammachi (who plays Handel on her violin), their beloved uncle Chacko (Rhodes scholar, pickle baron, radical Marxist, bottom-pincher), and their enemy, Baby Kochamma (ex-nun and incumbent grandaunt). When Chacko’s English ex-wife brings their daughter for a Christmas visit, the twins learn that things can change in a day, that lives can twist into new, ugly shapes, even seize forever, beside their river…
– The God of Small Things, Goodreads synopsis
Though written with many simple words and phrases, Roy creates meaning within the language of the twins, who have their own special way of communicating. Almost every word in The God of Small Things holds meaning, and it’s up to the reader to interpret the story. Furthermore, the novel is full of quotes that hold a tremendous amount of meaning. The language itself is beautiful, full of hidden meanings and emotions. Underneath it all, The God of Small Things is a novel that is wondrous and heartbreaking at the same time.
Perhaps it’s true that things can change in a day. That a few dozen hours can affect the outcome of whole lifetimes. And that when they do, those few dozen hours, like the salvaged remains of a burned house – the charred clock, the singed photograph, the scorched furniture – must be resurrected from the ruins and examined. Preserved. Accounted for. Little events, ordinary things, smashed and reconstituted. Imbued with new meaning. Suddenly they become the bleached bones of a story.
— Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things
Following an earlier announcement by Penguin UK last October, Roy’s second novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, is set to release internationally in June of this year, according to a tweet from the New York Times.
Arundhati Roy, author of “The God of Small Things,” is finally releasing her second novel this summer https://t.co/aYGbatPmuf
— New York Times Books (@nytimesbooks) February 1, 2017
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is to follow in the footsteps of The God of Small Things as a narrative that captures life in India. According to a synopsis provided on Goodreads, Roy’s second novel will continue to focus on emotions and relationships:
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.
By slowly becoming everything.
Humane and sensuous, beautifully told, this extraordinary novel demonstrates on every page the miracle of Arundhati Roy’s storytelling gifts.
—The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Goodreads synopsis
It’s worth mentioning that Roy’s hiatus only existed in the world of fiction writing. In fact, in the gap between novels, Roy continued her work as an activist and wrote multiple novels and essays covering controversial political topics, including The Cost of Living, War Talk and The Algebra of Infinite Justice, among many others.
As someone who was deeply moved by The God of Small Things after reading it for a Literature and Psychology class I once took, I am really looking forward to The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. Not only does it seem to be rich in language and emotion, but it seems more focused on relationships and love—I can’t wait to see what happens in her newest work. I will definitely be picking it up later this year.
Are you excited about Arundhati Roy’s anticipated return to fiction?
Tell us in the comments below!