New Delhi: In a joint statement, Hamish Hamilton UK and Penguin India have announced that Arundhati Roy’s second novel will be published next year, in June 2017. It is titled The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.
The announcement marks 19 years since Roy’s debut novel, The God of Small Things, took the literary world by storm and won her one of its highest honours – the Man Booker Prize, in 1997.
In the intervening years, Roy has been anything but inactive. She has been an outspoken proponent of a number of political and social justice issues – including the construction of the Sardar Sarovar Dam, Adivasi land rights and Kashmiri self-determination – and has been a prolific writer of essays, which have been published in a number of collections.
Some of these collections include The Greater Common Good (1999), Public Power in the Age of Empire (2004), and Walking With the Comrades (2011). Most recently, she co-authored Things That Can and Cannot be Said with John Cusack, a series of essays and dialogues based on the two authors’ conversations with whistleblower Edward Snowden.
She has also been a polarising figure in progressive circles, having been called out by Dalit rights activists for her introduction to Annihilation of Caste by B.R. Ambedkar, which she titled ‘The Doctor and the Saint’. An open letter on the issue published by Roundtable India summarises the critique:
“Dalit activists have been very critical of your introduction to Annihilation of Caste. The entire debate started after excerpts from your introduction were published in Caravan and Outlook. These excerpts clearly indicate to anyone familiar with AoC, that your introduction has very little to do with Ambedkar’s text. Whether it is more about Gandhi or not was never the issue, rather the content of AoC has been reduced to Gandhi and Ambedkar. The Gandhi and Ambedkar debate, you must be aware, is not part of Annihilation of Caste. But you chose to focus on the re-evaluation of Gandhi in comparison with Ambedkar. You did not contextualize and appreciate the historical significance of AoC. After reading the introduction, we feel saddened at your lack of investment in the history of the book and its circulation.”
About the novel, Roy said, “I am glad to report that the mad souls (even the wicked ones) in The Ministry of Utmost Happiness have found a way into the world, and that I have found my publishers.”
Her agent, David Godwin, added, “Only Arundhati could have written this novel. Utterly original. It has been 20 years in the making. And well worth the wait.”
Simon Prosser, the publishing director of Hamish Hamilton and Penguin Books UK and Meru Gokhale, editor-in-chief of Literary Publishing at Penguin Random House India said in a joint statement:
“To publish this book is both a pleasure and an honour. What an incredible book it is—on multiple levels; one of the finest we have read in recent times.
The writing is extraordinary, and so too are the characters – brought to life with such generosity and empathy, in language of the utmost freshness, joyfully reminding us that words are alive too, that they can wake us up and lend us new ways of seeing, feeling, hearing, engaging. It makes the novel new – in the original meaning of novel.”