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The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

Blurb

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is the latest offering from the author of The God of Small Things. Arundhati Roy is a staggeringly lyrical writer and The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is a prime example of this.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is a story about pet goats, two babies and Saddam Hussain…what more could you want?


Our Review

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is the latest offering from the author of The God of Small Things. Arundhati Roy is a staggeringly lyrical writer and The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is a prime example of this.

I love the descriptive nature of Arundhati Roy’s writing, the way it manages to describe the scene and characters without going overboard. I felt like I could see and hear the sights and sounds described on the pages of the book. For example,

“At the magic hour, when the sun has gone but the light has not, armies of flying foxes unhinge themselves from the Banyan trees in the old graveyard and drift across the city like smoke.”

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness was a pleasure to read, not least because of Arundhati Roy’s gift for character development. I have rarely seen character development like it, she weaves together a million little threads without any being diminished.

When we first meet the protagonist, she is described as living in the graveyard ‘like a tree.’ She sleeps on a threadbare Persian carpet which she folds away and hides during the day.

“For company she had her steel Godrej almirah in which she kept her music – scratched records and tapes – an old harmonium, her clothes, jewellery, her father’s poetry books, her photo albums and a few press clippings that had survived the fire at the kwabgah.”

Anjum was the fourth of five children and her parents were delighted to be getting their first boy, until the baby was unswaddled.

That was when she discovered, nestling underneath his boyparts, a small, unformed, but undeniable girlpart. She reacted with fear and shock, unsure how she would love a baby like that.

 “In Urdu, the only language she knew, all things, not just living things but all things – carpets, clothes, books, pens, musical instruments – had a gender. Everything was either masculine or feminine, man or woman. Everything except her baby.”

The word for people like Anjum is ‘Hijra.’

Anjum’s mother decided to keep the secret to herself and bring Anjum up as a boy. She didn’t even tell her husband the truth.

Growing up Anjum loved to sing and everyone agreed he had a sweet singing voice. As puberty dawned, and his voice broke, Anjum felt increasingly at war with his own body.

“One Spring morning Aftab saw a tall, slimhipped woman, wearing bright lipstick, gold heels and a shiny, green satin Salwar Kameez…He wanted to be here.”

Shortly after this Anjum left home and decided he wanted to live as a woman.

One of the main selling points of The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is the way Anjum and the other characters have their stories shown against the geopolitical landscape of India. These parts of the book were as important for me as the characters’ story.

“Partition. God’s carotid burst open on the new border between India and Pakistan and a million people died of hatred. Neighbours turned on each other as though they’d never known each other, never been to each other’s weddings, never sang each other’s songs. The walled city broke open. Old families fled (Muslim). New ones arrived (Hindu) and settled around the city walls.”

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is a story about pet goats, two babies and Saddam Hussain…what more could you want?

Our Final Rating...

Our Rating

  • Currently 4/5

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