Arundhati Roy

5 Best Arundhati Roy Books To Read and Why

Suzanna Arundhati Roy is an Indian writer, thinker, actress, and political activist renowned for her book The God of Small Things that received the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 1997 and became the best selling book of the decade by an Indian author still living in India.  

Born to Mary Roy, a famous women’s rights activist, Arundhati Roy also became the voice for human rights and environmental causes in India. Besides being an author of bestsellers, she’s an impartial political activist and current affairs analyst.

Arundhati Roy also worked in television and movies including In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones and Electric Moon which were both directed by her husband. She also penned a television serial, The Banyan Tree which never aired. 

Known for pursuing real life controversial topics, many of her books remained controversial due to their Hindu sensitive topics. She is known as “an independent, mobile republic.”

Arundhati Roy wrote many cultural and political essays that were collected by Penguin India in a five-volume set. She received the Lannan Prize for her political and Cultural Freedom in 2003. 

Here a collection of 5 books by Arundhati Roy that you must read.

1. The God of Small Things

Everything can change in the course of the day.

This modern tragedy by Arundhati Roy is a poignant combination of a love story and a family tragedy. It’s a complex yet interesting novel that reflects on cultural differences and caste system still strong in South India. The story also plays upon loss, pain, and revenge between twin siblings named Estha and Rahel, their parents, and other children of the household. 

The novel depicts the life experience of a multi-generational Keralite Syrian Christian family living near Cochin who faced many tragedies by the injustice of caste-phobia, especially because they got involved with an untouchable. 

The story is central around many big and small incidents. Worldwide tragedies are put in contrast to personal tragedies and how both affect the lives of people involved in them. There’s a lot of parallelism which is both evident and hidden at the same time by the similes and metaphors used in the narrative. 

The novel is laced with flashbacks which set the tempo for every next scene. Each incident in the past forebodes the future and a string of small incidents lead to bigger events and consequences as the insignificant god of small things leads to major catastrophes.

I agree with Tim’s review of The God of Small Things, this novel provides the context for understanding the culturally challenged society of Today’s India. 

2. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

She wondered how to un-know certain things, certain specific things that she knew but did not wish to know.

The novel opens in a graveyard surrounded by foxes, bats, crows, and sparrows where we are introduced to Anjum, a Hijra (third gender), who is shunned by the judgemental society. She decides to live her life in Khwabgah, a home for Hijras.  

Her mother raises her as a boy but till how long could she hide her identity?

In this novel, Arundhati Roy has become the voice of the faceless, voiceless, and marginalized people divided by caste system and religion.

The novel sets a debate about the right patriots, leftists, and nationalists struggling for peace and harmony. If you’re looking for an easy read with a proper beginning, middle, and end, this isn’t the one. 

The novel takes jumps from one conflict to the other, from the ongoing Kashmir conflict to the devastating attack of 9/11. 

The novel digs into the TRUTH of the social and political movements going on in India. The hijra rights movement, the Kashmir conflict, tribal land enclosures, inter caste marriages, Hindu fundamentalism, and Maoist uprisings.

This complex yet provocative novel requires a clear fragment by fragment, motif by motif slow-paced read. 

Rashid’s Javed Ahmed’s review of The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is concise and witty and he’s all-praise for the author’s farsightedness and keen observation skills. 

3. The End of Imagination

There is no terrorism like state terrorism. People rarely win wars; governments rarely lose them.

The End of Imagination is a collection of five of Arundhati Roy’s finest nonfiction speeches and essays from 1999 (India’s jobless growth and Hindu nationalism) to 2004 (War on Terror era). 

Roy refers to The End of Imagination as a summary of major political affairs and events that occurred throughout the world in that decade. It beautifully pictures the perception of USA actions on the world stage.

If you want to read a neutral, eye-opening stance on the most important global events, The End of Imagination is a must-read. 

The very first argument is about the dam-building system in India. She justifies her ideas through powerful arguments and the response to its resistance. She presents the unprejudiced outlook on the Hindu Nationalist movement.

Arundhati Roy further goes on to stir conversation about the development of nuclear programs, imperialism, the US invasion of Iraq, and Afghanistan, and more interestingly, she criticizes corporate globalization. 

According to JJ Wilson in his review of The End of Imagination, Arundhati is a hero who wears sari instead of a cape.

5. AZADI: Freedom. Fascism. Fiction. 

If anyone knows In which language does rain fall over tormented cities.

Arundhati Roy’s rebellious attitude and anguished imagination present through her latest novel dedicated to the ongoing Kashmir conflict. Arundhati Roy uses her author’s expertise to present her critical opinions and irrefutable facts in front of the general public, who wouldn’t want to read political news and narratives otherwise. 

AZADI is an Urdu word meaning Freedom. It is the slogan of Kashmiri people who’ve been craving freedom from Indian occupation since the partition of subcontinent in 1947. 

The same word has been the call of millions of Indians against the Hindu nationalists in India. 

This novel is another collection of essays by Arundhati Roy. It focuses on events unfolding from 2018 to 2020 as Pakistan and India struggle over the Kashmir crisis. 

It highlights the atrocities of the Modi administration, and authoritarian government’s prejudice against the Muslims of India. The novel talks about the communication lockdown faced by the Kashmiris after article 370 was revoked by the Indian government that gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir.

Arundhati has used her status and her skill as a writer and researcher to give voice to the voiceless and raise awareness about the current situation in India through her impartial and unbiased hard-hitting analysis of “unnecessary politics” in Kashmir. 

One may agree or disagree with Roy’s arguments but no one can deny the facts she presents in an unbiased and impartial way.

6. Capitalism ‒ A Ghost Story

Do we need more weapons to fight wars or do we need wars to create markets for weapons.

If you are a fan of ethical capitalism, then this book might change your outlook. It’s a set of anti-capitalist articles and essays. This polemic book consists of less than one hundred pages but has many powerful arguments against the neoliberal rule of rich industrialists, entrepreneurs and politicians of India and other capitalist states. 

The novel has many short essays and speeches, many of which deal with the situation in Kashmir. Due to her stance in the book regarding Kashmir as a disputed area, Roy was on the verge of getting arrested.

Satirically labelling the novel as A Ghost Story, the title directly refers to those thousands of farmers who committed suicide, rivers poisioned with industry waste, and problems created by clearcutting forests. 

The book deals with the basic naucences of capitalism. In a capitalist economy, major media outlets are in the pockets of elites. There’s no just circulation of money; the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. NGOs dominate the economy. Billionaires purchase the land from the poor and then sell them back their property at higher cost. Natural resources are owned by private companies. All these unaccountable economic activities are plundign regions into climate change and water crises.

Roy has also revealed many facts about India’s status as a global power, brutal suppression of dissent, and its self-aggrandising elite. She unravels fake images and loopholes in the world’s largest democracy.

Apeksha’s review of Capitalism – A Ghost Story perfectly summarizes the novel and its serious themes. The novel received mixed reviews from the critics so you’ll have to read it yourself to decide.

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January 2022