The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy [in Library Journal]
Arundhati Roy’s 1997 Man Booker Prize-winning debut, The God of Small Things, made her an international superstar. Twenty years later, Delhi-based Roy is an activist power house – feted and feared – with an expansive list of nonfiction credits; her second novel should placate her besotted groupies who made Ministry a best seller even before its publication date.
Roy’s most ardent fans will want to indulge in the audio version, as Roy narrates with her softly accented, rolling voice, adding another layer of intimacy not achievable on the printed page (or screen). The story is dually centered on Anjum, born intersex, raised a boy, who in adulthood is a woman whose greatest joy (and heartbreak) is motherhood; and Tilo, an enigmatic wanderer whose emotional entanglements become life-and death challenges. “What is the acceptable amount of blood for good literature?” Tilo reads in her journal-like book from her past. Indeed, happiness remains elusive, while violence is too often mundane.
The narrative meanders nonlinearly with multiple spurs, beginning and ending in a graveyard. Roy’s socio-political work has clearly informed her fiction: historical responsibility, separatism, poverty, gender politics, terrorism, societal degradation, and more – they are all here.
Verdict: At more than 16 hours, Ministry requires commitment and patience, but eager readers will demand access at libraries nationwide.