Azadi by Arundhati Roy review – at her passionate best

The author tackles Kashmir, Hindu nationalism and the dangers of being outspoken in this startling collection of essays

Arundhati Roy’s literary career has been one of a kind. Thrust into the limelight of the global publishing industry back in 1997 when her debut novel, The God of Small Things, won an advance of half a million pounds and then the Booker prize, she might have gone on to become a household name of cosmopolitan novel writing in the way that Salman Rushdie and Kazuo Ishiguro had in the decades before.

Instead, she steered clear of the form altogether for the next 20 years (until the 2017 publication of her follow-up novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness), devoting her attention and profile in the meantime to prose nonfiction that has energetically uncovered skeletons in the closet of India’s economic growth story: the nuclear arms race with Pakistan; the thousands of indigenous people displaced by the Narmada dam project; the Maoist insurrection across the country’s tribal heartlands; and the issue of Kashmir’s longstanding and brutal military occupation.

No stranger to controversy, this choice of subject matter, poking around in the hinterlands and shadowlands of 21st-century India, has kept her on a path of constant collision with the establishment at home. Roy’s engagement with Kashmir in particular, including her explicit support for Kashmiri separatism, for example, led to her being accused of sedition in 2010.

In spite of what she describes in Azadi, her latest collection of essays, as an atmosphere of “continuous, unceasing threat”, Roy has refused to back down and this volume, which takes its title from the Urdu word for “freedom” – azadi is the chant of Kashmiri protesters against the Indian government – serves to keep the Kashmiri situation in the minds of her global readership.


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