I have to admit that I didn’t really get this one. I love Roy’s style and enjoyed the book, but I’m not entirely certain I understood it. I think it would make a great book club book for discussion and perspectives because there is so much to digest here. Maybe it’ll end up as one of those books that I only get in retrospect, years from now as I look back on it. That’s happened a few more times than I’d like to admit with heavy novels like this.
I was excited to pick this one up this year after enjoying The God of Small Things last year. I find Roy’s style poetic and it’s in the little things like this:
Trees raised their naked, mottled branches to the sky like mourners stilled in attitudes of grief.
It gets me every time.
The length and breadth of this book is largely what caught me off guard and what kept me from really getting it on first pass. I wish someone I knew in regular life had read it so we can sit and talk about it. The book involves an interesting and diverse cast of characters with varying pasts that collide in an interesting way. Each character is given a background that is written as if they are taking turns being the protagonist which left me with the feeling that there was no central protagonist. At the same time, I enjoyed the whole story of each character and how they came to be at the place they all met at that time. It got a little disorienting when the individual stories begin and end at different times from the overall narrative, sometimes passed the point where they met and into the next phase of the story.
Mainly what the story serves to do is create a bigger picture of India and it’s relationship with neighboring countries and relations inside of the country than I would ever expect inside of one book. It covers different castes and classes and backgrounds and genders and religions and family situations. My favorite is the first protagonist, Anjum, who is a hijra, which is a South Asian term for transwoman. I loved her character and that the book opened with her and a bit of the history of what a hijra is and has been in India and the use of the term instead of trans.
I borrowed The Ministry of Utmost Happiness from the library, but click on the cover for purchase options if you’re more inclined that way or click here to add to Goodreads for later.