The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy

2.5/5 Stars

This is a sprawling story following two separate storylines one of a young hijra girl growing up and finding her place, and the other of an activist woman and the men who fall in love with her.
The synopsis on the front flap of this book is very vague, and I think thats because this story is so meandering. We start off following Anjum a transgender woman and get to experience her life..but just very on the surface. Through her whole storyline I felt like we didn’t actually ever fully dive into the life of a hijra, I didn’t every feel like we were there with her. It just seemed like a list of anecdotal stories about general hijra life, none of it seemed very personal or meaty. Which is a shame because the brief glimpses we did get were fascinating. Our second storyline which just begins abruptly and was very jarring is about a young activist woman and the men who fall in love with her. Again I felt that we just skipped over the top of her story and didn’t really get to know her or the fight she was in. These two storylines felt very separate and the device used for our characters to cross paths felt so contrived as an attempt to mesh these two stories together. I think we would have been better served to have these stories explored on their own in separate books instead of a scramble to try to join them together.

Another issue I had with this book was the random tangents the author continually went on about other marginalized groups or political facts. The way it was done seemed very messy and disjointed and often left me quite confused. This book just ended up being frustrating to me because many of the topics and people in this book were fascinating and I wanted to know more about them, but the way they were presented left me wanting more and as though they were not given enough voice or attention.

So, Manbooker thoughts, this one doesn’t make the shortlist for me, but I am happy that I read this as it introduced me to hijra culture in India which I had no idea about previously and found fascinating. Books like this are why this project is fun (in very small doses) as it forces me to pick up books I might normally pass by. Would I recommend this one? I don’t think so, unless you have  an extreme interest in Indian politics. I feel like there are other books out there that tackles these topics better.

Manbooker 2017 8/13

hijra