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The Ministry of Utmost Happiness: John C Adams Reviews

Book name: The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

Author: Arundhati Roy

Publisher: Hamish Hamilton

Format: Print, ebook, audiobook

Genre: Literature

Publication Date: 2017

Star Rating: 5/5

Some books are just irrepressibly positive about the joys of tough lives, and The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is one of them.

Arundhati Roy is best known for her Booker Prize-winning debut novel The God of Small Things.

She’s also written nonfiction books. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is her second novel.

When the novel opens, Anjum is living rough in a graveyard. We are then introduced to her during her childhood years. She was born a Hermaphrodite but raised as a boy.

Anjum’s determination to be herself leads her to leave home at fifteen and go to live with a community of Hijras in a building they call the Khwabgah.

From then on, she is able to live as a woman.

Living with others like her is a positive experience for Anjum, which is where much of the joy of The Ministry of Utmost Happiness comes from during this early part of the novel.

Anjum and her friends are resilient in the face of poverty and discrimination. But they retain an essential appreciation of life that was both moving and inspiring.

Anjum’s yearning to be a mother takes up quite a bit of the early narrative. She fails with one orphan, and we then see a flashback to where she almost manages to adopt another child earlier in her life.

However, the baby is taken back to her unmarried birth mother under the guise of adoption, a common way to get around the scandal of a single mother raising her own baby.

By this point, there are different point-of-view characters and the narrative moves on to other people.

This takes place at the same time as a shift to the first person, whereas Anjum’s tale was told in the third person.

The first-person narrator who takes up the story and expands it to more characters and a wider portrait of Indian society is a Brahmin male employed by the Indian secret service.

This couldn’t be a more different person to Anjum, but the shift was helpful to the reader is signalling the expansion of the book to more people and different sections of society.

The story of the supposedly orphaned baby is told via her friend when she is at university, who subsequently rents her an apartment.

He is in love with Tilo, and so are two of his closest friends.

This narrative is set against the backdrop of the Indian war with Pakistan over Kashmir.

I found Tilo’s story interesting, especially with the historical detail, but I really found myself wanting to hear it from her perspective.

Towards the end of the novel, the stories of Anjum and Tilo dovetail back into each other in a satisfying way that kept the narrative whole united.

I loved the positive and sympathetic portrayal of India’s Hijra community. Anjum was complex but I rooted for her.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness was a great story. The movements in time and between narrators made it quite complex, but these aspects were deftly handled.

The setting, characterisation and descriptions of lives in modern India were incredibly vivid and I found myself transported back to the India I visited in 1991 when I backpacked there for ten weeks during the summer after my first year at university.

I’ve missed it, and this story reminded me just how much.

Thank you for reading my review.

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John C Adams Reviews The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

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