Arundhati Roy

Arundhati Roy is an author, screenwriter, activist, actress, and one-time aerobics instructor. She is best known for her novel The God of Small Things (1997), which won the 1997 Man Booker Prize. It has been translated into 42 languages and sold over 8 million copies worldwide. Despite being the cause of a few controversies, the novel has also become a well-studied modern classic. Although she is often described as a human rights and environmental activist, she views herself as just a writer. 

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Table of contents

    Arundhati Roy, Portrait, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Arundhati Roy is an Indian novelist who also has written a collection of essays.

    Arundhati Roy: biography

    Arundhati Roy's Biography
    Birth:24th November 1961
    Birthplace:Shillong, India
    Father:Rajib Roy
    Mother:Mary Roy
    Spouse/Partners:Gerard da Cunha (1977-1981),Pradip Krishen (1984-Present)
    Known Works:
    Literary Period:Postmodernism

    Born in 1961 in Meghalaya to a Hindu father and a Christian mother, Roy grew up in Kerala. Her father was a tea planter and her mother successfully challenged India’s inheritance laws by suing for the right of Christian women to receive an equal share of their father’s estates. Her parents divorced when she was two, largely due to her father’s alcoholism.

    Although she completed an architectural degree in Delhi, she never practised as an architect, choosing to focus on writing. Her cited influences include Shakespeare (1564-1616), Tolstoy (1847-1910), Berger (1926-2017), and Galeano (1940-2015). John Lennon is her favourite Beatle.

    John Lennon was probably the most famous Beatle. He was married to performance artist Yoko Ono and is credited with being a pioneer of the 'Hippy' movement. A promoter of peace during the Vietnam War, he died after being shot by Mark David Chapman in 1980.

    Roy has been married and divorced twice. Her first husband, Gerard Da Cunha was an architect whom she studied with at university. Her second husband was indie film director Pradip Krishen. She has two stepdaughters, Mithva and Pia from her second marriage. She currently lives in Delhi with her dogs, Mrs Filthy Darling and Beloved of the Earth.

    Arundhati Roy: famous works in film

    After a start as a fitness instructor, Roy’s first roles as a creative were as a screenwriter and actress. Having married an independent filmmaker, Pradip Krishen, she began her industry experience as a goatherd in his film Massey Sahib (1985). She then penned and acted in In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones (1989), an award- winning film about her days as an architecture student.

    Pradip also directed her second independent screenplay, Paper Moon (1992). Despite later divorcing him, she continued her work in the industry with a never-completed series, The Banyan Tree, and DAM/AGE (2002), a documentary about the Narmada dam project.

    Arundhati Roy: famous works of fiction with quotes

    Arundhati Roy rose to global fame after the publication of her first novel, The God of Small Things (1997). It was an instant critical and commercial success. Since then, she has only written one other book of fiction, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (2017). Her novels are considered Postmodern, specifically Postcolonial, and do not follow traditional linear plot structures.

    Postmodernism is the movement that followed Modernism. It is characterised by the use of fragmentation, randomness over reason, intertextuality, and subjectivity.

    Postcolonialism is a sub-set of Postmodernism that studies or highlights the multiple and enduring after-effects of colonisation. These include aspects from societal to economic, but largely have a political theme.

    Otherness, politics, love, and Indian consciousness are all recurring themes in her novels. Sound-oriented techniques such as rhythm, alliteration, internal rhyme, assonance, and dissonance are used frequently to support the plot.1 This type of technique creates audio rhythms that add to the feeling created by the words. This example is from The God of Small Things (1997):

    'As Estha stirred the thick jam he thought Two Thoughts and the Two Thoughts he thought were these:a) Anything can happen to anyone.andb) It is best to be prepared.'

    The God of Small Things (1997)

    In 1997, at the age of 37, Arundhati Roy published The God of Small Things. While the novel won the Man Booker Prize, it was not without its detractors. Judges and past winners offered comments that ranged from potentially patronising to more directly critical.

    There is something childish about Roy. She has a heightened capacity for wonder.' - Jason Cowley2

    'Execrable'. - Carmen Callil2

    The novel is unusual in that it begins at its chronological end. A story about fraternal twin protagonists, Rahel and Ester, the plot reveals itself in a series of flashbacks and jumps forward through time.

    The main theme is the many facets and variations of love. The plot introduces several types of love, such as forbidden love, unrequited love, mutual love, and familial love. Themes of politics and social class are closely linked to the themes of romance, love, and sexuality.3

    Throughout The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy uses multilayered prose, with many possible perspectives and interpretations. She creates her own words and capitalises words that are not names or proper nouns. A key device used in this novel is repetition to create unique rhythms that imply meaning and build on the non-linear style of the plot.

    Do you think Arundhati Roy breaks the rules of accepted plot structures and prose writing? Or does she adhere to some rules and ignore others? If so, which rules does she break and how?

    The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (2017)

    Arundhati Roy’s second book of fiction The Ministry of Utmost Happiness was published in 2017, twenty years after The God of Small Things. Set mainly between Delhi and Kashmir, the novel covers decades of modern Indian history and introduces us to two key protagonists.

    Anjum is a transsexual woman who chooses to live in a graveyard, while Tilo is an architectural student who is estranged from her family. The many supporting characters span a wide range of society from Mulaqat Ali, an Indian doctor, to Begum Renata Mumtaj, a Romanian belly dancer.

    Arundhati Roy, busy street in Delhi, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Arundhati Roy's novel is partially set in Delhi.

    Similar to The God Of Small Things, the novel utilises layered prose with multiple interpretations to illustrate the diversity and complexity of modern India, its politics, and society. The plot is like a patchwork blanket of interwoven narratives. This directly contrasts with a traditionally sequential one. It has been criticised for being:

    'Diffused, unfocused, everything and nothing at once'. - Arifa Akbar.

    This quote implies that Roy doesn't know the formal rules of novel writing. Yet Roy has said that she deliberately uses this device as a method to subvert the accepted structure of a traditional canonical English- language novel.

    There are many themes in The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, but key themes include doomed love and othering, with the novel having been defined as a postcolonial, political (anti-) romance.

    Do you agree with some critics who find her novel simply unstructured and chaotic? Or do you think that this is a way to represent the sense of a city that does not have a western mindset? If so, does this device work for you as a reader?

    Arundhati Roy: themes and main focus

    Consistent theme threads run through The God of Small Things (1997) and The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (2007). These include politics, the different types of love, especially doomed love, the caste system, and othering. The theme of romance, while not central to either novel’s plot, is again interwoven with other themes that are both political and social.


    The characters in The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (2007) and The God of Small Things (1997) are often larger-than-life outsiders. Marginalised for reasons ranging from caste to sexuality, they represent the ‘other’, the most different, least well-regarded members of Indian society.

    Roy deliberately avoids depicting these characters as abject victims, choosing to relish in their outlier status instead. This is used as a strategy to subvert their traditionally-perceived inferiority.

    The facets of love

    The romance in Arundhati Roy's novels is not the straightforward, happy-ending type of romance. In both The God of Small Things (1997) and The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (2007), doomed relationships are used as triggers for connected themes related to social and political issues.

    The relationships between Velutha and Amma in The God of Small Things (1997), and Tilottama and Musa in The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (2007) are tragic due to the unavoidable impact of their external realities.

    In various ways in both novels, Arundhati Roy explores the ‘laws of love’ and what happens when these rules are broken or the boundaries blurred. This has led to court cases and The God of Small Things being banned in some instances.

    Why is Arundhati Roy important to Literature?

    With her two works of fiction described as postmodern, postcolonial works of domestic fiction and political (anti-) romance respectively, Arundhati Roy is difficult to categorise. Her themes of domesticity do not exclude war or politics. Her novels do not conform to traditional structures of plot or prose, either. She uses a non-sequential plot and creates her own words, using her own style of capitalisation.

    In The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Roy uses a nonlinear, chaotic narrative as a device to reflect the cities that it is set in. She asked and answered, 'Can a novel be a city?'3 So, in many ways, she is quite subversive as a novelist. She breaks many traditional rules around plot, grammar, and prose. Arundhati Roy is considered important because she has successfully upended long-accepted ideas of what constitutes award-worthy English literature.

    I think what I mean is that there is a danger of fiction becoming domesticated, you know, of too much of a product that has to be quickly described, catalogued, put on a particular shelf, and everybody has to know what is the theme. And, to me, I wanted to blow that open. - Arundhathi Roy

    Arundhati Roy - Key takeaways

    • Arundhati Roy is a postmodernist writer from India who has attained global recognition for her works of fiction and nonfiction.
    • The plots of her novels are not sequential and her characters are often marginalised outsiders.
    • Key themes that run through her work are the many facets of love, forbidden or doomed love, and othering. Other themes include feminism, politics, and Indian identity.
    • She was the first Indian woman to win the Man Booker Prize in 1997 for The God of Small Things (1997) and was longlisted for The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (2007) in 2017.
    • The content and structure of her novels have caused her work to be banned and to generate controversy.

    1. Lau L, 'Romancing the other: Arundhati Roy's The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness'. The Journal Of Commonwealth Literature. (1999)

    2. Jason Cowely, 'Goddess of Small Things', The Times (2004)

    3. Bose B, 'In desire and in death: Eroticism as politics in Arundhati Roy’s The God
    of Small Things'. ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature 29(2): 5972. (1998)

    4. Tim Lewis, 'Arundhati Roy. The point of a writer is to be unpopular'.The Guardian, (2018)


    1. Fig. 1 - Arundhati Roy ( by Augustus Binu ( is licensed by CC BY-SA 3.0 (
    Frequently Asked Questions about Arundhati Roy

    What is Arundhati Roy known for?

    Arundhati Roy is best known for her Booker Prize winning novel, The God of Small Things (1997). 

    Her non fiction, screenwriting and work as an environmental and human rights activist have made her internationally famous beyond her work as a novelist.

    Why did Arundhati Roy write The God Of Small Things (1997)?

    The novel is semi-autobiographical but Arundhati Roy has not made any public statments about why she wrote the novel.

    What books has Arundhati Roy written?

    Arundhati Roy's works of fiction include the novels The God of Small Things (1997) and The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (2007).

    Is Arundhati Roy a social activist?

    Arundhati Roy has been called a political, social, and environmental activist.

    She refers to herself as a writer who is interested in politics.

    Who is Arundhati Roy?

    Arundhati Roy is an Indian writer who gained international recognition for her book, The God of Small Things (1997).

    She is also an active writer of non fiction, documentary maker and activist.

    She has won awards like the Man Booker Prize, the Sydney Peace Prize and the Norman Mailer Prize for writing.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Who are the protagonists in The God of Small Things?

    What movement or movements do Arundhati Roy's novels belong to?

    Why is Arundhati Roy a groundbreaking novelist?


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