The God of Small Things is Arundhati Roy's first and only novel to date. It is semi-autobiographical in that it incorporates, embellishes, and greatly supplements events from her family's history. When asked why she chose Ayemenem as the setting...
Arundhati Roy was born in 1961 in the Northeastern Indian region of Bengal, to a Christian mother and Hindu father. She spent her childhood in Aymanam in Kerala, which serves as the setting for her first novel, The God of Small Things (under the name "Ayemenem"). Roy's mother, Mary Roy, homeschooled her until the age of ten, when she began attending regular classes. She has been reluctant to discuss her father publicly, having spent very little time with him during her lifetime; Roy instead focuses on her mother's influence in her life. Mary Roy, a political activist, won an unprecedented victory for women's rights in Kerala. Through her persistence, the Supreme Court granted Christian women in Kerala the right to have an inheritance.
She spent her teenage years at boarding school in Southern India, after which she earned her degree from the School of Planning and Architecture in Delhi. After graduating, Roy supported herself by teaching aerobics while honing her writing skills. She eventually wrote several film scripts, which are recognized for their complex structure and biting social commentary. Roy wrote and starred in the film In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones, and she wrote the script for Electric Moon, directed by her second husband, Pradip Krishen. (Her first husband was Gerard Da Cunha, whom she met while in college. Their marriage lasted approximately four years.) Both films garnered a cult following, setting the stage for the fiction-writing side of Roy's career. Penguin published the script for In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones as a book in 2004.
Even when she was a low-profile writer, Roy began to assert her political opinions loudly. She rallied media support for Phoolan Devi, a politician and former criminal of Robin-Hood fame, whom she felt was being misrepresented by the film Bandit Queen (directed by Shekhar Kapur). After the controversy surrounding Bandit Queen subsided, Roy took time to write her first and only novel to date, The God of Small Things. She received an extraordinary advance of half a million pounds on the book, making its release high-profile well ahead of time. After the novel's publication in 1997, the book won the prestigious Booker Prize, making Roy its first Indian woman and non-expatriate Indian recipient.
In addition to her novelistic skills, Roy is widely known for political activism (perhaps along the lines of a Noam Chomsky). She has published many works of nonfiction including several essays as well as The End of Imagination (1998), The Greater Common Good (1999), The Cost of Living (1999), Power Politics (2002), War Talk (2003), The Checkbook and the Cruise Missile (2004, with David Barsamian), and An Ordinary Person's Guide to Empire (2004). She also took part in the June 2005 World Tribunal on Iraq. In January 2006 she was awarded the Sahitya Akademi award for her collection of essays, The Algebra of Infinite Justice, but she declined to accept it.
Roy has faced accusations of being anti-American and was convicted of contempt of court by the New Delhi Supreme Court for her political activism. She remains relentless. For instance, she was awarded the Sydney Peace Prize in 2004 for her efforts toward social justice and peaceful conflict resolution. Roy continues to write, engage in advocacy, and live with her husband in New Delhi.
Study Guides on Works by Arundhati Roy
Published in 2017 by Indian author Arundhati Roy, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is a novel that takes and glues together some of the worst events in the history of modern India. One of these events, a new land reform, puts people in the book...