Blesok no. 119, May-June, 2018

Arundhati Roy: “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness“, Knopf, London 2017

Recommendation for translation: A NOVEL WITH THE COLOUR OF SAFFRON Recommendation for translation: A NOVEL WITH THE COLOUR OF SAFFRON

What is unchangeable in the novel is the general profile of the about one hundred characters. They are all “falling people” who “don’t really exist”. The definition is given by the author herself, hidden in a form of a common dialogue of the meeting between Anjum and Saddam Hussain, when he/she tells him: “Once you have fallen off the edge like all of us have(…) you will never stop falling. Andas you fall you will hold on to other falling people. The sooner you understand that, the better. This place where we live, where we have made our home, is the place of falling people. Here there is no (…), even we aren’t real. We don’t really exist”.

What is changeable in the novel is the voice of the narration. In fact, the breathing rhythm of the story. Both when there is an omniscient narration, in third person, and when there is a first-person narration, I-perspective (the landlord Garson Hobart), the voice moves from a sensual or threatening whisper, through natural or initiated nasality, innate or influenza-caused hoarseness, all the way to the too rustling, too jarring raucous tones as in some kind of insidious humming of words, permanent obstruction in the lungs of the story. The voice of this narration is never constant; its breathing is never regular. There is always some kind of stimulus that changes the voice from sentence to sentence; there is always some kind of respiratory obstruction that complicates the breath of truth. It is simply impossible to get used to the sound of narration and calmly read on; it is impossible to catch the breathing rhythm of the story and to steadily continue it to the end. Perhaps this is all a prolonged stylistic reflex (Roy is an expert in such narrative procedures), continued echo of the characterization of one of the protagonists – Anjum, who has two voices “that argue”. Not only are the characterizations of the characters mathematically precise, but they are most often projected through the narration as recognizable contours, silhouettes, shadows. The fact that Anjum has two voices that come out of his/her throat seems to enable in some special way the constant (unpredictable and unexpected) change of the voice of narration. Anjum has two voices; the narration has – many more. It seems as if a narrative polyvocal choir is accompanying at times one, at times the other voice of Anjumin separate solo sequences. The shadows of this estranged characterization of characters that is interwoven into the text, into the whole novel, are extended, shortened… dependin on where the sun of Arundhati Roy’s narrative intention is placed at a given moment.

In the case of the economical, but powerful characterization of another character in the novel – Saddam Hussain, the procedure is just doubled. The first characterization is onomastic – the character’s name is Saddam Hussain!, the second is that he has to wear glasses all the time because long ago he permanently damaged his vision from the splendor of the sculptures of the best artist in India. This double characterization is so unusual, ostensibly sparing, but in fact endlessly ample, which offers unlimited opportunities for additional character and emotional nuances. In it, there is poetry, metaphor, irony… all of it together in the name of the character and what stands “behind” his obligatory sun glasses. Saddam Hussain as a character is much more than the name and the glasses, he is well developed and “depicted” in the novel, but neither is Anjum only two voices (“which quarrel”), but this is an exceptionally complex character who exists in the story even when he/she is absent from it for a long time, since Arundhati Roy leads us in such a way that we are always waiting for him/her to appear. For more than 150 pages she tells us the story of Anjum, and later she starts a completely new story, in another social and intellectual background. And it lasts for a long, long time… until they merge, until we see that all the time we are being told One story, enormous and frightening, perhaps insufficiently compact, yet One.

Many things in the new novel by Arundhati Roy have the color of saffron. The sari of a beautiful or not beautiful woman, of a woman or not-quite-a-woman, the home textile, the walls, the sky, the thoughts… all areas… When a color is repeated through the text not too often so that it is not imposed as a message; nor too rarely – to avoid the risk that this may remain unnoticed / that it (the color) may remain unnoticed, but precisely so many times and with such frequency that a fast and easy “fall” of the slippery semantics is achieved on the even more slippery narrative intention, the reader first gets used to the color, then subconsciously dissolves it in the words, and slowly and extensively begins to color the whole text/novel with it. 

AuthorOlivera Kjorveziroska
Translated byKalina Maleska
2018-09-20T12:42:59+00:00 May 12th, 2018|Categories: Reviews, Literature, Blesok no. 119|Tags: |0 Comments