Writer of wrongs
Arundhati Roy went from author to activist
By Valerie Ryan
IN 1997, WHEN HER first novel, The God of Small
Things, won the Booker Prize (now the Man Booker
Prize), Arundhati Roy was catapulted to a place of
instant recognition—and controversy.
Following the success of the novel, Roy has
devoted herself mainly to nonfiction and political
activism, publishing collections of
essays, as well as working for social
causes. She is an outspoken critic of
neo-imperialism, of India’s nuclear
weapons policies and of the approach
to industrialization and rapid development as currently practiced in
India, including the Narmada Dam
project. Roy donated her Booker prize
money as well as royalties from her
books on the project to the Narmada
Bachao Andolan, a nongovernmental
organization that mobilized farmers,
environmentalists and political activists to protest the dam. Her opposition earned her a one-day prison
sentence and a fine.
Her activism has not gone unrecognized or
unrewarded. Since 2002 she’s been honored with the
Lannan Foundation’s Cultural Freedom Award, the
Sydney Peace Prize and the Sahitya Akademi Award,
a national award from India’s Academy of Letters,
which she refused to accept for political reasons.
Roy is a dogged and fearless activist in pursuit of
righting wrongs as she perceives them. She is also a
novelist of enormous talent with a formidable command of the language. The good news is that she is,
at last, working on a second novel.
Costco Connection: Let’s dispense with the most odi-
ous question first. You have said that to ask if you
are writing another book is to mock you. I ask it
only as a reader and bookseller who believes that
you have more to say, presented as fiction, that
might be as valuable and far-reaching as any-
thing else you could do.
Arundhati Roy: Did I really say that?
Sounds a little extreme … maybe I
did, long ago. It used to bother me
when people asked about a next book
when I had only just finished my last
one. Now … I don’t have that reaction. I’m working on a novel, but I
have no idea how long it will take, and
whether I’ll be happy with it.
Costco Book Buyer
CC: How has being Indian and in New
Delhi influenced or even dictated what
you have pursued since publication of
your first novel?
Signed book giveaway
COSTCO HAS 50 copies of Arundhati Roy’s
The God of Small Things with signed
bookplates to give away. To enter, print
your name, membership number, address
and daytime phone number on a postcard
or letter and send it to: Arundhati Roy, The
Costco Connection, P.O. Box 34088, Seattle,
WA 98124-1088. Or send an e-mail to give
firstname.lastname@example.org, with “Arundhati Roy”
in the subject line.
NO PURCHASE OR PAYMENT OF ANY KIND IS
NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN THIS SWEEPSTAKES.
Purchase will not improve odds of winning. Open to legal residents of
the U.S. (except Puerto Rico) who are age 18 or older at the time of
entry and who are current Costco members. One entry per household.
Entries must be received or postmarked by April 1, 2009. Winners will
be randomly selected and notified by mail on or before May 1, 2009.
The value of the prize is $14.95. Void where prohibited. Winners are
responsible for all applicable federal, state and local taxes. Odds of
winning depend on the number of eligible entries received. Employees
of Costco or Random House and their families are not eligible.
Send your feedback on this month’s book to:
AR: The God of Small Things was published in 1997. In October that year it won the
Booker Prize. The Indian middle class is obsessed
with prizes, so it catapulted me into a kind of fame
that I found embarrassing. In May 1998 the Bharatiya
Janata Party–led Hindu right-wing government
conducted a series of nuclear tests. They were greeted
by a howling nationalism that I could not believe. I
knew that I was one of the few people who, at the
time, commanded space in the mainstream press to
raise a voice of protest. I knew that staying quiet was
as political an act as speaking out. So I wrote an essay
called “The End of Imagination,” denouncing the
tests and the ugly rhetoric that followed in their
wake. That essay set me on a political journey that
has been fascinating and searing. And now it’s been
12 years and I’m still deep in the heart of it.
Sometimes I want to get out but don’t know how.
LIKE MANY people I’ve
become increasingly interested in India, its people and
its culture. That interest
nudged me into revisiting the
1997 Booker Prize–winning
novel The God of Small
Things, by first-time novelist
Set in India in the late
1960s, the story follows 7-year-
old twins Estha and Rahel,
and shows how they come to
see that the small things that
happen in their lives become
the things that define them.
The story includes their 9-year-
old cousin, Sophie, and the bitter and unfulfilled adults who
also shape the twins’ lives.
Ultimately this is a powerful
novel about politics, forbidden
love and family relationships.
The God of Small Things is
available at most Costco warehouses and Costco.com.
CC: From this 10-year vantage point, what do you
think about The God of Small Things Would you
AR: I don’t think I’d want to change anything. If I’ve
changed, I imagine that that change will make itself
known when I write something new—and it may
not necessarily be a better book. But what’s the point
of tinkering with what has gone before?
CC: What do you hope that readers coming to the
novel for the first time now will take from it?
AR: Whatever they wish to. Every reader takes away
something private, something secret. In this way
they establish their ownership. It’s not just my book;
it’s theirs too. C
Valerie Ryan owns Cannon Beach Book Company
on the north coast of Oregon.
For more of my picks this
month, see page 29.