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June 19, 2017 10:49 AM   Subscribe

‘Fiction takes its time’: Arundhati Roy on why it took 20 years to write her second novel [The Guardian]
“To many of Roy’s literary admirers, her work over the past 20 years has been something of a puzzle. Is she really a literary figure, or was her first novel a sort of fluke? Roy was 35 when she published her debut, The God Of Small Things, to rapturous acclaim. A semi-autobiographical tale of an Indian family fading into decline, fractured by tragedy and scandal, it won the Booker prize, sold more than 8m copies in 42 languages, and transformed an unknown screenwriter into a global celebrity, tipped as the new literary voice of a generation. In the 20 years since then, Roy has published dozens of essays and non-fiction books, made documentaries, protested against government corruption, Hindu nationalism, environmental degradation and inequality, campaigned for Kashmiri independence, Maoist rebels and indigenous land rights, and featured on Time magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people. To her political fans, she is the radical left voice of principled resistance; to her critics, the worst sort of adolescent idealist: unrealistic, self-indulgent. She has faced criminal charges of contempt and sedition, been imprisoned, and fled India briefly last year in fear for her life. She has not, until now, however, published another word of fiction.”
• Arundhati Roy’s Long-Awaited Novel Is an Ambitious Look at Turmoil in India [The New York Times]
“In “The God of Small Things,” her stunning debut novel, published 20 years ago, Arundhati Roy wrote that in India, “personal despair could never be desperate enough” because “Worse Things had happened” and would keep happening. The barbarities of history: the bloody politics of colonialism and partition, shockingly violent outbreaks of religious strife, paralyzing caste and class prejudices, and what V. S. Naipaul once called “poverty and an abjectness too fearful to imagine.” In that earlier novel, Roy focused on personal and private losses, using her magical eye for emotional detail and her quicksilver prose to immerse us in the daily rhythms of life in a Kerala village, while creating a Faulknerian portrait of a family that had the inevitability of a classic tragedy. Her long-awaited new novel, “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness,” has moments of similar heartfelt intensity, but it is less focused on the personal and the private than on “the vast, violent, circling, driving, ridiculous, insane, unfeasible, public turmoil of a nation.””
• Arundhati Roy on balancing her dual identity as fiery political commentator and soft-spoken novelist. [Slate]
“But in the past 20 years, Roy has followed a different path than one might have expected, composing essays and books about India, where she was born in 1961, and establishing herself as arguably the most outspoken commentator on Indian politics. She has written about the role of India’s military in Kashmir and tribal areas, and spoken out against the rise of the Hindu right wing, including the current prime minister, Narendra Modi. Over the years, Roy has been threatened and even accused of sedition; she has also been the subject of debate in liberal circles, with some accusing her of being simplistic in her anti-capitalist rhetoric and naïve in her support for India’s Maoist uprisings. (She has also been a consistent critic of American foreign policy; in 2015, she met with Edward Snowden in Moscow, along with John Cusack and Daniel Ellsberg.) [...] Weaving together, among other threads, the story of a transgender woman in Delhi (where Roy still lives) and a Kashmiri freedom fighter, the new novel is teeming with all-too-real references to modern India, including the infamous anti-Muslim pogrom in the western state of Gujarat in 2002, which Modi himself presided over.”
• Arundhati Roy Returns to Fiction, in Fury [The New Yorker]
“As the book begins, in what appears to be the nineteen-fifties, Jahanara Begum, a Delhi housewife who has waited for six years, through three daughters, to get a boy baby, goes into labor, and soon the midwife tells her that her wish has come true. She has a son. That night is the happiest of her life. In the morning, she unswaddles the baby and explores “his tiny body—eyes, nose, head, neck, armpits, fingers, toes—with sated, unhurried delight. That was when she discovered, nestling underneath his boy-parts, a small, unformed girl-part.” Her heart constricts. She shits down her leg. Her child is a hermaphrodite. Jahanara thinks that maybe the girl-part will close up, disappear. But month after month, year after year, it remains stubbornly there, and as the boy, Aftab, grows he becomes unmistakably girly: “He could sing Chaiti and Thumri with the accomplishment and poise of a Lucknow courtesan.” His father discourages the singing. He stays up late telling the child stories of heroic deeds done by men, but, when Aftab hears how Genghis Khan fought a whole army single-handedly to retrieve his beautiful bride from the ruffians who have kidnapped her, all he wants is to be the bride. Sad, alone—he can’t go to school; the other children tease him—he stands on the balcony of his family’s house and watches the streets below, until one day he spies a fascinating creature, a tall, slim-hipped woman, wearing bright lipstick, gold sandals, and a shiny green shalwar kameez. “He rushed down the steep stairs into the street and followed her discreetly while she bought goats’ trotters, hairclips, guavas, and had the strap of her sandals fixed.””
• Arundhati Roy’s Fascinating Mess [The Atlantic]
“Just about every resistance movement is embodied in a character, and the lives and struggles of these characters intersect. The queers, addicts, Muslims, orphans, and other casualties of the national project of making India great again find one another and form a raucous community of sorts. And this novel—this fable—is as much for them as about them; it commemorates their struggles and their triumphs, however tiny. You will encounter no victims in this book; the smallest characters are endowed with some spit. A kitten, about to be drowned by a group of soldiers, bares her fangs, unafraid to take on the Indian army. At night, a dung beetle lies on his back in the graveyard, pointing his feet to the sky, to help prop it up should it fall. Even he is given a name: Guih Kyom. Even he does what he can. “I’ll have to find a language to tell the story I want to tell,” Roy said in an interview in 2011, as she discussed returning to fiction. “By language I don’t mean English, Hindi, Urdu, Malayalam, of course. I mean something else. A way of binding together worlds that have been ripped apart.” As it happens, she didn’t really settle on a new way of telling the story—this novel shares the same playful, punny argot of The God of Small Things (more on this later)—but she tries to pull all those worlds into an unwieldy embrace.”
posted by Fizz (4 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
I <3 Roy.

"Caste is about dividing people up in ways that preclude every form of solidarity, because even in the lowest castes there are divisions and sub-castes, and everyone’s co-opted into the business of this hierarchical, silo-ised society. This is the politics of making a grid of class, of caste, of ethnicity, of religion. And then making the grid ever more fine is very much part of how you rule the world, saying, ‘You’re a Muslim, you’re a Hindu, you’re a Shia, you’re a Sunni, you’re a Barelvi, you’re a Brahmin, you’re a Saraswat Brahmin, you’re a Dalit, you’re gay, you’re straight, you’re trans – and only you can speak for yourself, and there’s no form of solidarity being allowed.’ So what people think of as freedom is really slavery."
posted by nikoniko at 4:19 PM on June 19 [4 favorites]


I'm one of those in the camp that knows her better a political writer/activist and less so a novelist. Her new novel is on my TBR pile.
posted by Fizz at 4:30 PM on June 19


I love her! I went to the launch of her newest novel and went to another event with her, I believe it was the launch of Listening to Grasshoppers but it's been a while so I don't remember, and what I was struck by was her humility and genuineness in the face of a rock-star reception from the audience.

I can't wait to read her new book; The God of Small Things was special to me, one of the first great novels that I read when it came out, and such a lesson in empathy, compassion and poetry. I have read it a few times but the last time was years ago. But I still remember what it felt like to live in that book, so beautiful, and yet so sad.
posted by Ziggy500 at 2:17 AM on June 20


I have not read her work, but this is a great post and a great little profile of her.

How wonderful that she has taken the time she needed for her second book.

Thank you!
posted by kristi at 5:13 PM on June 20


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