Truly, this is a remarkable creation, a story both intimate and international, swelling with comedy and outrage, a tale that cradles the world’s most fragile people even while it assaults the Subcontinent’s most brutal villains. It will not convert Roy’s political enemies, but it will surely blast past them. Here are sentences that feel athletic enough to sprint on for pages, feinting in different directions at once, dropping disparate allusions, tossing off witty asides, refracting competing ironies. This is writing that swirls so hypnotically that it doesn’t feel like words on paper so much as ink in water. Every paragraph dares you to keep up, forcing you finally to stop asking questions, to stop grasping for chronology and just trust her ... [it] will leave you awed by the heat of its anger and the depth of its compassion.
...a fierce and fabulously disobedient novel, a book as fearless as her essays on the environment, nuclear proliferation, and Kashmiri independence are bold ... announces itself page by page in noisy, foul-mouthed, and staggeringly beautiful sentences. In moments it reads like a feminist version of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, only in Delhi instead of Bombay, 70 years after the partition of India and Pakistan, the event that sits at the heart of both books ... Roy shows how sectarian hatred and violence shapes lives in a series of interlocking stories so fully realized they both feel intimate yet vibrate with the tragicomedy of myth ... Once a decade, if we are lucky, a novel emerges from the cinder pit of living that asks what increasingly appears to be the urgent question of our global era. How do you write fiction in an era when states are deformed by the violence they do in the name of nationalism and power? Roy’s novel is this decade’s ecstatic and necessary answer.
...an ambitious but highly discursive novel that eventually builds to a moving conclusion but bogs down, badly, in the middle, and is sometimes so lacking in centripetal force that it threatens to fly apart into pieces ... These horrifying incidents, and Roy’s introduction of myriad minor characters, however, do not result in a Bruegel-esque portrait of a country but instead feel like poorly stage-managed detours from the compelling stories of Roy’s two heroines ... Clearly, the intervening years of writing often didactic nonfiction — on subjects like nuclear tests, political corruption and Hindu extremism — have not damaged her gift for poetic description or her ability to map the complicated arithmetic of love and belonging...It’s when Roy turns from the specifics of her characters’ lives and tries to generalize about the plight of India that her writing can grow labored and portentous ... Happily for the reader who perseveres through such strained passages, Roy weaves the stories of Tilo and Anjum together in the novel’s musical and beautifully orchestrated conclusion — an ending that manages to extract hope from the copious tragedies these people have witnessed, a glimpse of the future in lives so burdened by the past.
...this is not a tale that can be told by Anjum. Although she’s a perfect emblem of India’s predicament, she is too vulnerable, too marginal, to take Roy’s story where it needs to go. I think Roy may have been reluctant to see that. She stays with Anjum too long, and allows the hijra’s story to devolve into anecdotes. Some are wonderful, but they pile up, and they all carry much the same package of emotions: sweetness and recoil, irony and pathos. Finally, however, Roy takes a deep breath and changes her main character ... In the long second section of the novel, once Roy leaves Anjum and goes out into the great world you see what she learned in her twenty years of activism. And above all in Kashmir, where most of the latter part of the book takes place, we are shown horror after horror ... Roy’s scenes of violence are hallucinatory, like the chapters on the Bangladeshi independence movement in Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, or the union-busting at the banana plantation in García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude ... At times, between the things flying this way and that—who is this new narrator who is talking to us, telling us that he needs to go to a rehab center?—you lose your bearings.
Roy’s admirers will not be disappointed. This ambitious new novel, like its predecessor, addresses weighty themes in an intermittently playful narrative voice ... Colourful and compelling, this is a novel in which characters embody political concerns rather than one in which those issues arise organically out of a sustained illumination of human nature. Roy is a mistress of the memorable vignette and the arresting detail ... Roy is not greatly preoccupied with interiority: her ancestor would be Dickens rather than Tolstoy. The novel teems with abundant incidental detail, and yet seems, for a considerable time, to present many apparently irreconcilably divergent strands. It’s a tribute to Roy’s gifts that she is ultimately able to arrange these into a coherent and meaningful whole; but some readerly perseverance is required ... Roy’s second novel proves as remarkable as her first. Its ambitions are rather different — grander still — and its formal strangeness risky and considerable. You will not finish this novel with a profound psychological understanding of its characters; but through their archetypal interactions, juxtaposed with Roy’s glorious social details, you will have been granted a powerful sense of their world, of the complexity, energy and diversity of contemporary India, in which darkness and exuberant vitality are inextricably intertwined.
Like its predecessor, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is a complex, nonlinear narrative that blends the personal and political. But unlike The God of Small Things, which focused on a pair of twins whose tragedy was familial, this is a novel of conflict on a grand scale ... There may be terrible bloodshed in The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, but it is undeniably good literature. Roy's rich and knowing narration wings across the landscape, traversing caste, religion and gender divides. She acerbically captures the cruel ironies of a city like Delhi, where dead paupers lie in 'air-conditioned splendor' in the morgue, despite never having 'experienced anything of the kind while they were alive.' She has a keen sympathy for women in dangerous spaces, whose bodies are used as shields, sacrifices and good-luck charms ... Arriving as it does at a time of geopolitical uncertainty, Roy's novel will be the unmissable literary read of the summer. With its insights into human nature, its memorable characters and its luscious prose, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is well worth the 20-year wait.
A rangy and roving novel of multiple, often oppositional voices, Ministry provides us with an intimate picture of a diverse cast of characters: some with homes and privileged lives and others without; some who feel that they belong to a nation and others fighting to create a new one ... The book’s narrator, who frequently stops to offer fierce commentary on all aspects of Indian culture, reveals that Roy’s instinct for satire is as sharp as ever, and her stories about Anjum and her cohort build into a broader portrait of the country over the past few decades ... Her prose is in this sense radically democratic. And her unmistakable style and her way of seeing the world become something larger, too: a narrative glue holding together a novel that is made up of disjointed parts.
Like The God of Small Things, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is full of chronological switchbacks. Characters brood over events that haven’t yet been explained or refer to people before Roy introduces them. This is the novel’s greatest weakness, because unlike The God of Small Things, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness isn’t knit together by the tight bonds of kinship. Longer and looser, it ranges across the past two decades of Indian history, taking in politics and several momentous events ... the effect is merely confusing, and doubly so for readers unfamiliar with recent Indian politics. Even so, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness remains a deeply rewarding work, if you can let the novel wash over you rather than try to force it into shape.
...it is a relief to encounter the new book and find Roy the artist fully and brilliantly intact: prospering with stories and writing in gorgeous, supple prose ... Roy, in her nonfiction, has taken a sharp interest in Kashmir, and it is evident in this novel, which is blazing with details about the Indian government’s occupation and the Kashmiri people’s ensuing sorrow ... These sections of the book filled me with awe — not just as a reader, but as a novelist — for the sheer fidelity and beauty of detail ... The other part of the book, which concerns Anjum, gives Roy more trouble, but only in its political aspects ... Roy, who has witnessed a great deal of turmoil, is uniquely placed to emphasize the solidarities between movements. She wants to show us a genuine counterculture of protest. Nevertheless, I longed for fewer connections, fewer babies and more in-depth depictions of the psychologies of the movements. I wanted Roy to focus not on the big symbols, but once again on the small things.
As she did in The God of Small Things, Roy astutely unpacks the layers of politics and privilege inherent in caste, religion and gender identity. Her luminous passages span eras and regions of the Indian subcontinent and artfully weave the stories of several characters into a triumphant symphony, where strangers become friends, friends become family, and the disenfranchised find the strength to wrestle control of their own narratives.
Roy has so much she wants to tell us that The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, in its nearly 450 pages, seems like several dense novels compressed into a single volume. Its sections are connected by recurring characters and plot threads that intersect at several points, and at the end. At times the reader must work to keep track of the multiple story lines and of minor figures whose significance we may dimly recall after having lost sight of them for a hundred pages ... Throughout the novel, one is heartened and impressed by Roy’s respect for the intelligence and attentiveness of her audience—for its willingness to follow the plot as it tracks back and forth in time, for her readers’ ability to recognize (or failing that, to look up) the historical figures and events to which she refers.
...as was true of The God of Small Things, there is more than a touch of fairy tale in the book’s moral simplicity—or clarity, if you’re feeling charitable...Yet to simply find fault with the lack of psychological shading would be, I think, a genre mistake. Roy’s indifference to precisely that problem suggests that something interesting is afoot...It isn’t concerned with the conventional task (or power) of fiction to evoke the texture and drama of consciousness. Instead, it acts like a companion piece to Roy’s political writings...It tours India’s fault lines ... The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is plagued by almost rudimentary errors: There is near-total confusion about point of view. Messages and morals come ponderously underscored. The two central stories never convincingly come together. In the absence of psychological development or real suspense, chapters end with portentous rhetorical ellipses. Worse still, the creation of characters as stand-ins for causes results in formulaic depictions of the very people she is trying to humanize.
...her return to fiction has a shaggy structure and polemical bent that might confuse and disappoint some readers. Yet its keen characterizations, ardent conscience and brilliant writing on a sentence level make the years this tale has taken to arrive somewhat understandable ... scathing yet beautiful and rich with metaphorical resonance — while also unfurling into an excessively digressive slog that threatens to bog down ... The ferocity of Roy's anger at what governments do (and fail to do) and her fervid desire to hold people accountable are admirable...But her myriad minor characters and political discursions cause the narrative threads to slip from her hands, leading to a bewildering lack of momentum and focus ... Yet even with its many flaws and frustrations, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is a grand if perplexing achievement: an ambitious story with a profound moral integrity and a deep emotional impact. Roy sets her aims incredibly high, and even when she misses the mark, she has written the kind of monumental and messy book that the monumental and messy world is perennially in need of.
Clearly, Roy’s scattershot narrative is deliberate; it reflects the fragmentation of the world around us. But there are dangers inherent in the attempt to become everybody and everything, and her clashing subplots and whimsical digressions can become rather unwieldy ... This fragmented effect is partly down to the vast cast of characters. At times, Roy’s desire to capture all sorts of diverse stories works brilliantly...But some characters are much less realised than Anjum; they brush past us and hardly draw us into their world. This decision to bring in so many varied voices feels political, as if it is Roy’s statement about the need to give attention to those who are so often overlooked by narrators of modern India ... This vision of building something fine and generous feels all the more honest and hopeful because of the harder journeys of much of the rest of the book. Stick with this novel, give it time to grow, and there are lasting rewards in Roy’s ability to create a bright mosaic out of these fragmented stories.
Aspects of this fragmentary novel echo The God of Small Things, a lushly written melodrama that took on caste inequalities and taboo love affairs. Others draw from Ms. Roy’s numerous nonfiction polemics against government abuses and the costs of rapid modernization ... The continuities make it apparent that The Ministry of Utmost Happiness isn’t a work of literary re-creation so much as an extension of Ms. Roy’s undertakings as a political dissident. This explains her eagerness to cram her protest novel with as many subjects as possible, at the expense of a coherent story ... The 20-year hiatus from fiction has given Ms. Roy a stockpile of rich stories and characters; synthesizing it all into a powerful novel would seem to have needed more time.
Once again, Roy demonstrates her mastery of exquisite prose, visionary intelligence and a bent for epic storytelling ... Political tensions are ever present in this book...Yet there are tender moments, luminous in their transcendence, to lift the reader’s mood. Some of the best include those that Tilo and Musa spend together. These artfully drawn portraits of intimacy also perhaps best convey the dominant message of the book.
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness unfolds in that liminal space between novel and history lesson, which might disappoint all but her most ardent fans since the fictional story appears to have been written in service to the nonfiction content. Yet there are plenty of moments of dazzling wording and surprising exchanges between her characters to keep readers interested in sloughing through the density of information. Patience occasionally cedes a reward when a story within the story bursts open, allowing one more compelling glimpse into India’s soul. Thankfully, those moments are not few, nor do they lack gravity — but neither do they accumulate into something more substantial. By the end, the fragmented narrative remains just that: pieced together, occasionally engaging and never quite fulfilling.
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is not an easy read, but it’s an abundantly worthwhile one. Filled with accounts of brutal torture and the vicious, never-ending, sometimes confusing conflicts between India’s many warring factions — including Kashmir’s long, violent fight for self-rule — it makes her instantly immersive Dickensian first novel seem like a seductive fairy tale by comparison ... Roy’s exquisite, furiously passionate prose is that rare instrument up to the task of telling this shattered story. She captures both the horrors of headline atrocities quickly overshadowed in the 'international supermarkets of grief' by the latest horror-du-jour, and the quiet moments when lovers share poems and dreams ... Like its transsexual heroine and coterie of sympathetic protagonists, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is augmented by its ambiguity, its heart, its complexity, its ambition and its willingness to respond to a brutal world with hope and humanity. Roy’s second novel reminds us what fiction can do.
It’s the kind of book that makes you feel like you’ve lived several times over. I’d felt a shadow of this same enormous, overpowering feeling — along with a welter of other chaotic emotions — when reading The God of Small Things for the first time ... Somehow in The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, her first novel in 20 years, Roy outdoes The God of Small Things, and this is largely because it is an even more unsettling, artistic cry against injustice. It is a polyphonic protest ... What the second novel sometimes lacks in the 'miniature' qualities that characterized The God of Small Things, it makes up for in its kaleidoscopic range, its rugged Rushdie-esque maximalism, its ripping open of the world to show us everything that is dazzlingly beautiful and brutally ugly about it, its daring public unsheathing of many emotions and events considered private, and its enormity, its recounting of everything without sacrificing the sheer honesty of its predecessor.
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness begins with Anjum, a Hijra — one of India's traditionally accepted transgender women. We follow her through her childhood and her coming of age as trans; from the outset, these sections have the bewitching prose, the bracing idiosyncrasy, the seductive pathos that made Roy's first book a universal favorite. However, the plot soon begins to meander ... there's no question that this novel is a pleasure to read. Roy is, above all, a lovable writer and, despite its frustrating qualities, this book has a lot to love. It's just a shame Roy didn't rein in a little more of her signature messiness.
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is worth the wait ... For many American readers, the details of politics and wars in India in the last several decades will be hazy at best. In a way, that won't matter. Roy is writing powerfully about specific wars but also about all wars, which inevitably blur together in their pointlessness, violence and waste of blood and treasure ... The world may be stunningly, absurdly cruel to her characters, but Roy is always tender with them. Despite the novel's often harrowing events and the difficult lives of many of its characters, it brims with lush description and humor of the most affectionate kind. Roy brings her large cast to life so vividly that when she zooms off from the main plot to fill us in on a minor character's back story it's a delight, not a delay.
Perhaps it’s the plethora of issues and stances that lend her second novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, a kind of genre and narrative schizophrenia. What begins as a compelling tale of Anjum, a Muslim trans woman eking out a life in Old Delhi turns into a wide swath of narrative non-fiction, with no particular subject or theme in mind ... Roy sledgehammers the floodgates open, turning the prose into a primordial soup that makes it difficult to properly track a story arc, let alone care about it ... Unfortunately, [Roy] doesn’t know what sort of novel to write.
Anjum’s and Tilo’s stories do connect, eventually, but it’s easy to see how a reader could lose patience waiting for that to happen. Those who do not share Roy’s political views on Kashmir – which don’t read here as a screed but are clearly deeply held – also are unlikely to enjoy her new novel, which vividly portrays the brutality inflicted on those even tangentially caught up in the conflict. The stories that stayed with him, one of the characters says, are the ones where 'hope and grief were woven together in it, so tightly, so inextricably.' The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is a magpie kind of tale – a heaping collection of tossed-together treasures nested in Roy’s deep sense of compassion for minorities and those cast off by society.
Like Rushdie, Roy recognizes that there are atrocities on both sides – and that the rise of Islamic fundamentalism leaves ever less room for the idyllic, more tolerant world Kashmir once was ... [an] ambitious, all-encompassing novel, which dares to imagine that the pursuit of happiness might take many paths – and accommodate multiple versions of India.
Her fiction benefits immensely from her decades of careful observation and sharp analysis as an activist. In The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Roy puts humans at the centre of the messy business of a post-colonial country aspiring to superpower status ... Roy’s mastery knows no bounds. She traces the last few decades of political strife to India’s identity today through an impressive number of characters and subplots ... Through rich storytelling and gorgeous prose, Roy doesn’t just reject jingoistic slogans and nationalistic narratives celebrating the making of modern India — she unmasks them.
...a book worth the wait: a humane, engaged tale of love, politics, and no small amount of suffering ... Roy’s novel shows clear kinship with Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, a story that, like hers, begins and ends with death; the first and last place we see here is a cemetery. But there are other echoes, including a nicely subtle nod to Salman Rushdie, as Roy constructs a busy world in which characters cross boundaries of ethnicity, religion, and gender to find, yes, that utmost happiness of which the title speaks. An assured novel borne along by a swiftly moving storyline that addresses the most profound issues with elegant humor. Let’s hope we won’t have to wait two decades for its successor.
Roy's ambitious, original, and haunting second novel fuses tenderness and brutality, mythic resonance and the stuff of front-page headlines ... Sweeping, intricate, and sometimes densely topical, the novel can be a challenging read. Yet its complexity feels essential to Roy's vision of a bewilderingly beautiful, contradictory, and broken world.