Roy, Arundhati 1960(?)-

views updated

ROY, Arundhati 1960(?)-

PERSONAL: Born c. 1960, in Kerala, India; daughter of Rajib (a tea plantation manager) and Mary (a teacher) Roy; married Pradip Krishen (a filmmaker), c. 1993. Education: Attended architectural school.

ADDRESSES: Home—New Delhi, India. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Random House, 201 East 50th St., New York, NY 10022.

CAREER: Actor, screenwriter, and novelist. Worked as an architect; sold cakes on a beach in Goa, India.

AWARDS, HONORS: Booker Prize, 1997, for The God of Small Things; Grand Prize of the World Academy of Culture (Paris, France), 2002; Lannan Award for Cultural Freedom.


The God of Small Things (novel), Random House (New York, NY), 1997.

The End of Imagination (essay; also see below), D.C. Books (Kottayam, India), 1998.

The Greater Common Good (essay; also see below), India Book Distributor (Bombay, India), 1999.

The Cost of Living (contains The End of Imagination and The Greater Common Good), Modern Library (New York, NY), 1999.

Power Politics (essays), South End Press (Cambridge, MA), 2001, published as Power Politics: The Reincarnation of Rumpelstiltskin, D.C. Books (Kottayam, India), 2001.

The Algebra of Infinite Justice (essays), Flamingo (London, England), 2002.

War Talk, South End Press (Cambridge, MA), 2003.

(With David Barsamian) Globalization Dissent: Conversations with Arundhati Roy, South End Press (Cambridge, MA), 2004.

Also author of screenplays; author of television series about India's nationalist movement.

WORK IN PROGRESS: A novel about nuclear power.

SIDELIGHTS: Arundhati Roy created an international sensation with her debut novel, The God of Small Things, which first earned its author a million-dollar publishing advance. The novel garnered Roy Britain's most prestigious literary award, the Booker Prize; she was the first citizen of India to win that award. Following the success of her first novel, Roy remained in the public eye due to her social activism, as well to as her outspoken criticism of globalization and the negative influence exerted by the United States on global culture. She has even been imprisoned for her activities and opinions, which she has expressed in many essays, including those collected in The Cost of Living and Power Politics.

Roy grew up in Kerala, India, a child of Syrian Christian and Hindu parents. When her parents divorced, Roy's mother fought for and won an inheritance, despite the bias of Indian laws favoring male heirs. The victory was perhaps more significant ethically than financially, for Roy still found it necessary to live in a slum area in order to save enough money to attend school in New Delhi. She began by studying architecture, but eventually drifted from that and took up an acting career. This led to success as a screen-writer, which put the writer in a good position to negotiate the contract for her first book. After first appearing in 1997, The God of Small Things has been translated into more than forty languages and has sold several million copies internationally.

The God of Small Things focuses on themes of history and the individual, as experienced by twin siblings. The novel's title, according to Meenakshi Ganguly in Time magazine, refers to the deity that rules over "social propriety." The novel tells the story of Ammu, a divorced mother of twin children. Rahel, Ammu's daughter, eventually ends up in the United States, while her son, Estha, becomes mute, but despite their physical separation the twins retain an empathic bond. The novel also explores Ammu's forbidden love with the carpenter Velutha who belongs to the class of untouchables, and portrays family relatives who have come back to visit their homeland from Great Britain. One of the visitors ends up dead, and Ammu's affair comes to a tragic end.

Ganguly noted that The God of Small Things is "infused with endless, cinematic fast-forwards that telegraph the tragedy ahead." The critic cautioned that "Indian readers may be put off by the incessantly brutal depiction of their country. . . . Buildings are in near-rot and roads are graced with squashed animals." Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times praised the novel, hailing it as "dazzling" and "a richly layered story of familial betrayal and thwarted romantic passion." Kakutani compared Roy to British Victorian novelist Charles Dickens and twentieth-century American novelist William Faulkner for her handling of issues pertaining to race, class, society, and character, and reported that critics in the author's native India have compared her to South American novelist Gabriel García Márquez. The critic also asserted that "Roy does a marvelous job of conjuring the anomalous world of childhood, its sense of privilege and frustration, its fragility, innocence and unsentimental wisdom."

Roy used her newfound fame and money to further her work as an activist, and also attracted additional attention with her essay The Greater Common Good, which has been published in book form. In this essay she denounces the multimillion dollar Sardar Sarovar Dam project on the Narmada river in western India. Although promoters have touted the dam as a solution to India's power and water shortages, opponents of the project believe that it will cause widespread social and environmental chaos, as it would submerge 245 villages and displace some forty million people. In another essay, The End of Imagination, Roy decries the nuclear bomb tests conducted by India in May of 1998. Why, she asks, did India spend the massive amounts of money it took to build and test the bomb when the country has 400 million citizens living in complete poverty and illiteracy? Both essays have been reprinted in the volume The Cost of Living. While a Publishers Weekly writer stated that "Roy surely has meaningful things to say about India," the critic added that "she is not yet nearly as accomplished a political critic as she is a novelist." The Cost of Living is, in the reviewer's opinion, "marred by general attacks on 'the system' and personal digressions that distract a reader from the substantive issues at hand." In Library Journal, Ravi Shenoy allowed that Roy's "polemical tract" is "not a dispassionate inquiry," but added that nonetheless it "raises some important questions about the real price of 'development,' whether in the form of big dams or bombs."

Power Politics presents more of Roy's essays, as she criticizes the political elite of India and that group's participation in globalization despite enormous social and environmental costs. The essays are "pithy and elegant," according to a writer in the New Internationalist. James Gerein urged in his World Literature Today review that readers of this book should "set aside prejudgments, follow her arguments, and try to empathize with what it would be like to lose one's land, village, job, income, way of life, and perhaps life itself to the imperatives of globalization. Her thesis is not some bleedingheart fantasy but a largely unreported consequence of big business pounding the voiceless down to compost level."

War Talk likewise presents Roy's views and her passion for them, as she explores the connections between violence, poverty, and globalization. Judy Coode reported in Sojourners, "Roy is an incisive, infuriated citizen of the world, and she is determined not to allow the powers that thrive on imbalance and inequity to silence her. The essays are fairly easy to read, though at times their subject matter is difficult to stomach. Roy barely restrains herself from screaming in frustration at humans and their inability to recognize the connection between inequality and the lack of peace. She exposes herself fully, writing with such emotion and articulation that the reader can almost see her expression of righteous fury and hear her . . . strong voice choked with tears." Despite the seemingly unrelieved seriousness of Roy's writing, Donna Seaman noted in a Booklist review of War Talk that, "So fluent is her prose, so keen her understanding of global politics, and so resonant her objections to nuclear weapons, assaults against the environment, and the endless suffering of the poor that her essays are as uplifting as they are galvanizing."

Roy has spoken of her unconventional, independent mother as an influence she is very thankful for. She told David Barsamian in an interview for Progressive: "I thank God that I had none of the conditioning that a normal, middle-class Indian girl would have. I had no father, no presence of this man telling us that he would look after us and beat us occasionally in exchange. I didn't have a caste, and I didn't have a class, and I had no religion, no traditional blinkers, no traditional lenses on my spectacles, which are very hard to shrug off." She further commented to Barsamian: "I don't see a great difference between The God of Small Things and my works of nonfiction. As I keep saying, fiction is truth. I think fiction is the truest thing there ever was. My whole effort now is to remove that distinction. The writer is the midwife of understanding."



Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 109, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.

Contemporary Novelists, 7th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2001.

The Critical Studies of Arundhati Roy's "The God of Small Things," Atlantic Publishers & Distributors (New Delhi, India), 1999.

Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook: 1997, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.


Booklist, May 1, 1997, Donna Seaman, review of The God of Small Things, p. 1480; April 15, 2003, Donna Seaman, review of War Talk, p. 1433.

Christian Science Monitor, November 24, 1997, Merle Rubin, review of The God of Small Things, p. 11.

Ecologist, September, 2000, "I Wish I Had the Guts to Shut Up," p. 29.

Entertainment Weekly, May 16, 1997, Suzanne Ruta, review of The God of Small Things, p. 109.

Guardian, September 29, 2001, review of The Algebra of Infinite Justice, p. 1; November 30, 2002, Natasha Walter, review of The Algebra of Infinite Justice, p. 11.

Harper's Bazaar, May, 1997, p. 117.

Herizons, spring, 2001, Subbalakshmi Subramanian, review of The Cost of Living, p. 33.

Journal of Contemporary Asia, May, 2003, Zaheer Baber, review of The Cost of Living, p. 284.

Kirkus Reviews, review of The God of Small Things, p. 412.

Library Journal, April 15, 1997, Barbara Hoffert, review of The God of Small Things, p. 120; July, 1997, Eric Bryant, review of The God of Small Things, p. 102; October 15, 1999, Ravi Shenoy, review of The Cost of Living, p. 90.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, June 1, 1997, Richard Eder, "As the World Turns," p. 2.

Maclean's, October 27, 1997, "A Literary Queen," p. 64.

Mother Jones, January-February, 2002, Arlie Russell Hochschild, interview with Roy, p. 74.

Nation, September 29, 1997, Amitava Kumar, "Rushdie's Children," pp. 36-38.

National Review, February 7, 2000, Kanchan Limaye, review of The Cost of Living, p. 50.

New Internationalist, October, 2002, review of Power Politics, p. 31.

New Republic, December 29, 1997, James Wood, review of The God of Small Things, p. 32; April 29, 2002, Ian Buruma, review of Power Politics, p. 25.

New Statesman, June 27, 1997, Amanda Craig, "But What about This Year's Barbados Novel?," p. 49; April 30, 2001, Salil Tripathi, "The Goddess against Big Things," p. 22.

Newsweek, May 26, 1997, Laura Shapiro, "Disaster in a Lush Land," p. 76.

Newsweek International, March 18, 2002, interview with Roy, p. 94.

New Yorker, June 23, 1997, John Updike, "Mother Tongues," pp. 156-159.

New York Review of Books, August 14, 1997, Rosemary Dinnage, review of The God of Small Things, p. 16.

New York Times, June 3, 1997, Michiko Kakutani, review of The God of Small Things, p. B4; July 29, 1997, Elisabeth Bumiller, "A Novelist Begins with a Splash," p. B1; October 15, 1997, Sarah Lyall, "Indian's First Novel Wins Booker Prize in Britain," p. A4; January 12, 2000, Celia W. Dugger, "Author Seized," p. A6; August 7, 2001, Salman Rushdie, "A Foolish Dam and a Writer's Freedom," p. A19; November 3, 2001, Celia W. Dugger, "An Indian Novelist Turns Her Wrath on the U.S.," p. A3; March 7, 2002, "India Jails Novelist for Criticizing a Court Ruling," p. A4.

New York Times Book Review, May 25, 1997, Alice Truax, "A Silver Thimble in Her Fist," p. 5; November 25, 2001, Alex Abramovich, review of Power Politics, p. 28.

Observer (London, England), November 17, 2002, review of The Algebra of Infinite Justice, p. 20.

People, July 14, 1997, Francine Prose, review of The God of Small Things, p. 30; November 3, 1997, Thomas Fields-Meyer, "No Small Thing: A Stunning Debut Novel Earns Arundhati Roy the Fruits of Stardom," p. 107; May 11, 1998, p. 161.

Progressive, April, 2001, David Barsamian, interview with Roy.

Publishers Weekly, March 3, 1997, review of The God of Small Things, p. 62; September 20, 1999, review of The Cost of Living, p. 61; May 14, 2001, John F. Baker, "Roy's Indian Wars," p. 20; July 30, 2001, review of Power Politics, p. 72.

Sojourners, July-August, 2003, Judy Coode, review of War Talk, p. 57.

Time, April 14, 1997.

Vogue, October, 2002, Daphne Beal, "Portrait of a Renegade," p. 244.

Washington Post, October 20, 1997, Kenneth J. Cooper, "For India, No Small Thing: Native Daughter Arundhati Roy Wins Coveted Booker Prize," p. C1.

Whole Earth, winter, 2001, "India Will Not Behave," p. 78, Paul Hawken, review of Power Politics, p. 81.

World Literature Today, winter, 1998, Ramlal Agarwal, review of The God of Small Things, p. 208; summer, 2002, James Gerein, review of Power Politics, p. 79.

World Press Review, January, 1997, John Zubrzycki, review of The God of Small Things, p. 39.

World Watch, May, 2002, Curtis Runyan, review of Power Politics, p. 17.

Writer, November, 1998, Lewis Burke Frumkes, "A Conversation with Arundhati Roy," p. 23.

ONLINE, (September 30, 1997), Reena Jana, interview with Roy.*