Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Ordinary Person's Guide to Empire

I have to begin this review by confessing that I am not too big a fan of Arundhati Roy’s writings. That may be an unjustified statement, considering the fact that the only work of Roy’s that has ever graced my bedside reading pile has been the God of Small Things, her maiden venture. I say it graced the pile only because I could not read beyond the first 40 pages or so, and so it was returned to the library unfinished.
And therefore, it came as some surprise to those who know me to see me engaged in her latest offering, The Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire. The very reason I picked up this book was that it was non-fiction; which meant to me, no long winding passages describing a minute, perhaps even highly inane and unwanted feature of a somewhat pointless episode. And I was right.

The book is a collection of her writings and speeches from the world over, between 2002 and 2004. Her writings provide an insightful peek into the happenings in the political world around that period of time. Most of the issues dealt with in the book are contemporary in their aftermaths, and provide a deeper understanding of the history of today’s present. It would not be unfair to say that the major chunk of pieces in the book are almost anti-American in their nature: in fact in one of the pieces she goes into a detailed explanation of the meaning of the terms ‘anti- America’ and ‘anti- Americanism’. Right from the indifferent attitude of the Americans towards fleeing Jews during WW2 to the war against Iraq, Roy does not spare America and its policies.

But before u conclude that this book is all about world politics, read the chapter called “Ahimsa”. A touching and thought provoking piece about the protestors working under the Narmada Bachao Andolan, she brings to the forefront the appalling indifference of the Indian government towards the starving protestors.

I recommend this book not just because for its literary value, but because of the tendency of each piece in the book to arouse your curiosity and send you on a quest for further knowledge, made easy by the section called “Notes” provided at the end of the book for people seeking more information about the episodes and organizations mentioned in the book. Especially worth reading are the slightly long but intensely satisfying pieces called “Come September” and “How Deep Shall We Dig?”

Pick up this book because it will encourage you to think of issues in focus in the world today, instead of just absorbing information as you see it on the television or read in print. Pick it up because it is nothing like Roy’s other works of fiction.

Title: The Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire

Author: Arundhati Roy

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