The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

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I picked up this book from the Woodland Public Library and have had it with me for my recent travels to British Columbia and Santa Cruz the last few weeks. My life has been in such a way that this book was the perfect escape to the Eastern part of the world, though it is not short on violence and grief and such things.

This book felt like many books put together. The stories feel hectic and tenses change — long pages text and long chapters fill the mind with words and cultures and things that most Americans know little or nothing about. Full of words that I had to slow down to read and pronounce in my mind remind me of how ignorant I am.

The story is rich and the dust jacket description is well written. Reviews are mixed from what I read online to inspire me to write this blog. I think many Western people would have a hard time with this book because of the depth of cultural context it explains. Some reviews claimed that the there was no story but in fact there are many stories in this book. The book felt real and it challenged modern literature and inspires me to write more freely.

If you want to learn more about what it would be like to be born hermaphroditic in India in the 1970’s, or to move into a graveyard and start a funeral parlor there for proper burials of the untouchables, or to taste the violence of Kashmir, definitely give this novel a look.

I was inspired to read this book after seeing Arundhathi Roy speak on Democracy Now recently– here is a link to that interview: LINK

Happy to have given this library book some mileage.

17 comments on “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness”

  1. I am fascinated by your review, borkali. This book has been on my mental tsundoku for some time. I loved The God of Small Things, even as it broke my heart, so have been pulled toward more work by this author. Intrigued by what you say about it challenging modern literature, and not “no story” but many stories. Will definitely need to move it from my mental list to my physcial list. Thanks for inspiring the move.

    And, oh my!, you have been a woman on the move of late…

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    1. This was a challenging read and since it was from the library, I had to finish in 3 weeks, but like Barbara I feel I could read it at least twice more and still feel lost in the complexity of India.

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  2. I love Arundhati Roy. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness was a challenge because I know so little about India. It took me a long time to read it. I know I need to read it again, and maybe even again… It was so rich. Roy is a political activist in India, and most of her writing is dedicated to her activism. She has a book coming out soon, The End of Imagination–a collection of her essays. There are some great interviews with her at Democracy Now.

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  3. Borkali, I’m glad you read this book. Because of my love for (yes, heartbreaking) The God of Small Things, I jumped on The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. I read the library’s copy of The God of Small Things, but then bought it because I needed to see it on my shelf which is something I don’t often do. I can’t remember if I read or listened to The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. It puzzled me at first and then it latched onto me and pulled me through. I have read several novels set in India or with characters from India.. Let’s see: A Suitable Boy, What the Body Remembers, Interpreter of Maladies. What the Body Remembers is particularly searing.

    Want to check out this Democracy Now interview!

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    1. It is an excellent interview! Thank you for the additional suggestions — my library does not carry The God of Small Things so I am still waiting for it to show up somewhere in my wanderings.

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      1. Speaking of what a library carries, I’ve just discovered there’s something called a TexShare library card which cooperating library systems issue and accept. I got mine yesterday & now I can access the university libraries, among others. Books, books, and more books! Does your library participate in an Inter-Library Loan system?

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      2. And I have had very good luck suggesting purchases for my library. I have done so at least 6 times and only once were they unable to fullfill my request, due to availability from their vendors. Don’t know if all libraries do this but it is pretty cool.

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      3. Yes Teri – my library has tons of inter-loan options we are very lucky. Plus, I have access to Penn State and University of California libraries, so I am quite flush with access and am always happy to help if anyone needs something ! I am the President of the Friends of the Woodland Public Library and have had the pleasure of learning from the librarians about all kinds of things related to books and why certain libraries carry certain things. JNaz- I also have no problem requesting books and have been encouraged to do so actually — I got Maria Popova’s Figuring off the shelf the other day. It is a heavy load!

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      4. I figured as much, borkali, but couldn’t see why you’d deprive yourself of The God of Small Things. 🙂 I have never tried requesting the acquisition of an item, always thinking that the people at the library would mutter, “Why don’t you buy the book?” But you two must have an insider’s read on this.

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      5. I checked out Popova’s book from the library. It’s like Brain Pickings on steroids. Many, many quotes. In fact, more quotes than original material There are things to enjoy about it, but I couldn’t get all of the way through it.

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      6. Sometimes I just wait for things to appear 🙂 The Ministry of Utmost Happiness was on the shelf so I read it, but went in look for The God of Small Things — Popova’s book is more for perusal than linear reading, for me — I am just happy to carry it around for a while, but I could never read this thing in 3 weeks!

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  4. Teri- You should always feel welcome to make suggestions to the library since they are there to serve the local public. In fact it is helpful for them to have a sense of what people are interested in having available and whatnot. I’d say feel free to speak up!

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  5. I bought Popova’s book, because I knew it would take forever to get through Figuring (definitely in small doses). I’m happy all the proceeds go to NYC libraries. Endless food for thought. Popova has an amazing mind–and a generous spirit!!

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  6. I found The God of Small Things on a book cart in the courtyard the other day when we were moving donations 5$ per bag. It didn’t take too long for this book to find me! I’m looking forward to enjoying it soon.

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