“Terrorism is the symptom, not the disease.” (Arundhati Roy, The End of Imagination)
Arundhati Roy is a superhero. She wears a sari instead of a cape. She has written one novel – The God of Small Things – and it won the Booker Prize. She is an award-winning screenwriter and an award-declining dissenter. She is an architect by training and an activist/intellectual by vocation. She has the face of an angel and the toughness of a tiger. Whatever she does, she does it brilliantly, with consummate style and candor. Her writing is as flawless as a summer sky, and her themes are those that will haunt humanity forever: justice, violence, and how to make a better world for everyone.
When Arundhati Roy won the Booker in 1997, she was seen as a poster child for the Indian literary boom. She joined a coterie that included Vikram Seth, Salman Rushdie, Anita Desai, Rohinton Mistry, and others. (Some clever soul once described this boom as “the empire strikes back.”) But instead of remaining the darling of the elites, Roy embarked on a string of essays that were highly critical of India’s political class and which ranged across numerous issues: Hindu extremism, political corruption, and the displacement of communities for dam projects.
As she grew into her voice, she went beyond criticizing her home country, the world’s largest democracy, and found further, broader targets in globalization, environmental destruction, U.S. hegemony, and the tyrannies and illegal wars that have pockmarked this century.
The End of Imagination (Haymarket Books, 2016) is a compendium that brings together five of Roy’s books. It soon becomes obvious, for those not in the know about her non-fiction, that she is an electrifying polemicist. In these essays and speeches, she marshals her facts like an academic but writes like a novelist – fluent, clear and lively.
Several of these essays are already classics. “The Loneliness of Noam Chomsky,” written as an introduction to Chomsky’s 2003 book For Reasons of State, has lost none of its power from being extracted from its intended home. “Peace is War,” a short deconstruction of the media’s complicity in defrauding the public, is worthy of its Orwellian title. Whether on Indian or international themes, the essays possess a style and relentlessness that make them essential reading even as you tear your hair out at the injustices they describe.
Much of the work in the collection comes from the era of Bush Jr., yet it still seems prescient and timely. Rosa Luxemburg, writing at the beginning of the twentieth century, warned of an imminent “barbaric age.” To read Arundhati Roy is to confirm that this age is upon us now.