Putting the World to Rights

Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things had such impact on Indian consciousness that she was brought before the Supreme Court on the charge of ‘corrupting public morality.’ This trial, her decision to give up writing fiction to raise awareness about the Narmada Valley dam project, and her subsequent arrest, have marked her out as a writer intent on exploring the relationship between the personal and the political. How stories get told, and from whose perspectives, are themes she discusses in these conversations with journalist David Barsamian.

Over the course of two and a half years, Arundhati builds a narrative around world events and institutions, discussing 9/11, the outbreak of the Iraq war and numerous other issues. In fact, so much is discussed – from the ubiquitous Michael Moore to call centres in India, that readers may find themselves overwhelmed by her expansive erudition. However, it is by focusing on her native India that she reveals the true nature of globalisation; one of the most memorable and pointed passages is her description of India’s privatisation of its electricity infrastructure to Enron.

At times this is an uneasy book to read. Arundhati’s opinions are dazzlingly forthright, exposing facts about the balance of power in our world that we daily choose to ignore. Her personality and way with words are at once compelling and distracting: the conversational format and her complicity with David, means they pass over some topics more quickly than some readers might like. The contradiction that Indian women must rail against tradition, yet at the same time ‘against the kind of modernity that is being imposed by the global economy,’ is one that she herself seems to embody.

A recommendation from Noam Chomsky and an introduction by Naomi Klein make this prescribed academic reading, but for those wishing to gain an insight into the mind of a gifted writer’s politics this an immensely readable book. Arundhati Roy’s aim is clear, seeking ‘to create links, to join the dots, to tell politics like a story, to communicate it, to make it real’, and although she offers no real answers to combating the problems she so passionately explores, this is an inspiring book.

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