4 min read.Updated: 26 May 2017, 03:26 PM ISTLivemint
Twenty years after Arundhati Roy burst on to the literary landscape, she is ready with her second novel, 'The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness'. Here's a seven-step guide to everything there is to know about the most anticipated book of the year
Arundhati Roy, novelist with a sting
There are two plain, unbeautiful (and clichéd) words that we think about when reading Arundhati Roy. Small, and big; “small" people, “big" causes. The first she made famous with her first novel, The God Of Small Things. It won a big British literary prize, the Booker, remarkable at that time for a book so particularly Indian in its ethos.
But Arundhati Roy, the writer, has always been drawn to the revolutionary. Soon after her Booker win, Roy threw her weight behind social activist Medha Patkar and the villagers trying to save their homes from being submerged by the Sardar Sarovar Dam project. In her 2010 essay ‘Walking With The Comrades’, of her time spent with Maoists in the forests of Dantewada, she speaks of the courage, the harrowing experiences and the tormented history of the tribal people. Roy has often made the case for Kashmir’s independence, for initiating peace talks.
Arundhati Roy, the non-fiction writer, is unafraid to take sides.
Fiction, though, is a more generous space. In The God Of Small Things, we saw Roy’s characters in all their imperfections, cruelties and confusions. In the kind of imperfect, cruel and confused world we live in today. These human frailties are what made The God Of Small Things a timeless novel. It is this novel and the inescapably linked world it built, that will bring her readers to The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness.
‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’ is already a best-seller
Arundhati Roy’s debut novel has sold over six million copies since its publication, say her publishers. So, book stores are naturally optimistic about The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness, preparing to stock several hundred copies on Day 1 itself. Up for pre-order, the book is already on Amazon’s “top 50 best-seller books" list.
A mysterious Delhi tomb on Arundhati Roy’s book cover
Dilliwallahs have a new lexicon for the seasons they encounter. We now identify them according to the specific kinds of illnesses we need to fend off, or the PM level in the air we breathe. So writer and photographer Mayank Austen Soofi (an employee of HT Media, which owns Mint), on being asked when Arundhati Roy approached him for an image for the cover of her new novel, says it was last year, “during the time of dengue and chikungunya".
Roy gave instructions, both precise and indeterminate: She wanted a tomb, or a stone surface that looked like a tomb. “But it should not look like anything in particular. Just like the cover photograph of The God Of Small Things, which was water, but not a stream or (any other water body)," says Soofi.
With the author returning to fiction 20 years after her Man Booker Prize-winning debut novel, The God Of Small Things, literary festivals in India and outside are excited, and hopeful, once again.
Starting June, Roy will be on a book tour in the UK and the US, even attending off-site events of select litfests. She will return to India in July before heading off for the next leg of her European tour in September.
Why Arundhati Roy’s new novel will be a ‘heavy’ book
From all accounts, Arundhati Roy is a hands-on author, intimately involved in most of the production stages of her book—not just the editorial. At the Penguin Random House office in Delhi, she was present at most meetings with the publisher’s in-house team of eight people involved in production, as also with their designers. She has overseen every aspect of her new novel, including the Maplitho paper it will be printed on.
There are books that have remained perennial reader favourites, but there are very few books with covers that have become iconic. One of them is Arundhati Roy’s The God Of Small Things, the original cover of which used its publisher Sanjeev Saith’s close-up of lotus leaves and a pink flower on a murky water surface. So enduring has been this cover, designed by David Eldridge of the London-based design firm Two Associates, that several subsequent editions of the novel have not strayed from the lotus motif. For her second novel, Roy has been equally particular about the cover. Meru Gokhale, editor-in-chief, literary publishing, Penguin Random House India, says they created many options, but Roy didn’t like any. She was independently in touch with Eldridge, and one day last winter called Gokhale home, saying, “I think I have the cover."
In an email interview from London, Eldridge speaks of how he created the cover of the new novel.