Roy rides into fic­tion again

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Reads - Look out for Star2’s re­view of The Min­istry Of Ut­most Hap­pi­ness next Sun­day.

ARUND­HATI Roy’s ea­gerly-awaited se­cond novel went on sale last week, two decades af­ter her prize-win­ning de­but The God Of Small Things pro­pelled her to global fame and launched her ca­reer as an out­spo­ken critic of in­jus­tice in her na­tive In­dia.

Roy be­came the first In­dian wo­man to win the pres­ti­gious Man Booker Prize with her 1997 work, which sold around eight mil­lion copies and turned the young au­thor into a star of the lit­er­ary world.

In the years that fol­lowed, she turned to non­fic­tion writ­ing, tak­ing on is­sues rang­ing from poverty and glob­al­i­sa­tion to the con­flict in Kash­mir in es­says that were of­ten highly crit­i­cal of In­dia’s rul­ing class.

Her cam­paign­ing earned her the wrath of many in the In­dian es­tab­lish­ment and has clearly in­flu­enced her lat­est novel The Min­istry Of Ut­most Hap­pi­ness, which she has said took 10 years to pro­duce.

Pub­lisher Pen­guin says it takes the reader “from the cramped neigh­bour­hoods of Old Delhi into the bur­geon­ing new metropo­lis” and on to the troubled Kash­mir Val­ley and the jun­gles of cen­tral In­dia, racked by a long-run­ning Maoist re­bel­lion.

“There was this huge sense of ur­gency when I was writ­ing the po­lit­i­cal es­says, each time you wanted to blow a space open, on any is­sue,” Roy told The Hindu daily in a re­cent in­ter­view.

“But fic­tion takes its time and is lay­ered .... It is not just a hu­man rights re­port about how many peo­ple have been killed and where. How do you de­scribe the psy­chosis of what is go­ing on? Ex­cept through fic­tion.”

Roy was praised at home when she be­came the first res­i­dent In­dian to win the Booker for her novel about twins grow­ing up in the state of Ker­ala. Pre­vi­ous In­dian win­ners had lived out­side the coun­try. She re­called in a re­cent BBC in­ter­view how she was sud­denly on the cover of every mag­a­zine – un­til she spoke out against In­dia’s nu­clear tests a year later.

“Not that I had a say in it, but I was be­ing mar­keted as this new prod­uct of the global In­dia,” she said.

“And then sud­denly the gov­ern­ment did th­ese nu­clear tests ... and I wrote this es­say con­demn­ing the tests, and at that point the fairy princess was kicked off her pedestal in a minute.”

Roy, now 55, went on to be­come one of In­dia’s most fa­mous and po­lar­is­ing au­thors.

She was briefly jailed for con­tempt of court over her ac­tivism and still faces a sedi­tion charge for chal­leng­ing in 2010 In­dia’s right to rule the dis­puted Kash­mir re­gion.

She ar­gues that In­dia’s eco­nomic boom has made a small mi­nor­ity rich on the suf­fer­ings of the poor, and has spent time re­search­ing the fight by Maoist rebels for land rights in the re­source-rich jun­gles of cen­tral In­dia.

Her crit­i­cism of the rul­ing Hindu na­tion­al­ist Bharatiya Janata Party has been par­tic­u­larly fierce. She once called for Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi to be put on trial over the deadly anti-Mus­lim ri­ots in the state of Gu­jarat in 2002, when he was chief min­is­ter there.

Modi has been dogged by ac­cu­sa­tions he turned a blind eye to the vi­o­lence, but a Supreme Cour­tordered in­ves­ti­ga­tion in 2012 cleared him of any wrong­do­ing.

In­ter­na­tion­ally she re­mains a huge draw, lauded both for her ac­tivism and her writ­ing, and the re­views of her se­cond novel have been broadly – though not uni­ver­sally – pos­i­tive.

The Fi­nan­cial Times said it is “as re­mark­able as her first” and ad­mir­ers will not be dis­ap­pointed, while The New Yorker called it a “scar­ring novel of In­dia’s mod­ern his­tory”.

But some crit­ics were scep­ti­cal about her at­tempts to in­tro­duce po­lit­i­cal causes into her fic­tion.

“Min­istry is two decades of polemic dis­tilled into one book, with a su­per­struc­ture of fic­tion to hold it to­gether,” said The Econ­o­mist .“It does not work.”

Roy at­tended a launch for the new novel in London last week at the start of a book tour that will also take her to the United States.

Ra­jni Mal­ho­tra, owner of Bahrisons book­store in New Delhi, said she ex­pected sales to be good.

“She is a good nov­el­ist, you know,” Mal­ho­tra says. “She took 20 years to write this one, so ev­ery­one’s ex­pec­ta­tions are very high and it’s one of those hotly-an­tic­i­pated books.” – AFP

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Roy has mixed pol­i­tics into her fic­tion this time around, and not ev­ery­one likes that.

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