The Ministry of Utmost Happiness: A novel
While the world in which The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is set may be foreign to some readers, the characters Arundhati Roy has created are achingly familiar. First Anjum, born Aftab, who longs to be something other, something brighter and more beautiful than the world initially allows. Then Tilo, a woman whose inner strength is born of suffering and who fears her greatest happiness will always come at a price. And then, there are the dead. As relevant as their living counterparts, the dead in Roy’s novel exist to remind us we are alive and that this one life, fraught with peril, war, and pain, is as equally full of joy and promise and, yes, even paradise, if we allow ourselves to see it.
Set in India, in all its various incarnations, over a span of years, the novel weaves together the stories of many characters over time in a way that is not entirely clear until the latter chapters. This weaving, subtle as the flapping wings of the birds that riddle the novel, is both brilliant and maddening. But staying with the story when ends are loose and the pattern has yet to emerge is rewarding because the heart of the novel is simple: we need each other. Human beings need each other to traverse a world at war so we may find the place we truly belong. This need is true for readers of all faiths, all castes, all genders, and that truth is the genius of Arundhati Roy’s long awaited, and near perfect, second novel.