Twenty years after the instant success of her first novel, The God of Small Things, Roy has released her second book. This has been eagerly awaited with high expectations from fans, and it doesn't disappoint.
The novel explores Kashmir, the religious tensions in the region, ideas of revolution, gender identity, and identity politics in general. This book couldn't be more relevant or important in 2017. The central character is Anjum is a 'hijra', a term used to describe transgender women in South Asia, and the novel depicts her life and struggle, and that of the other outcasts her life intersects with. Anjum is a bridge and unifier between Muslims and Hindus, between old and young, men and women, Kashmiri Indians and Kashmiri Pakistanis, through Jannat's Guest House, which she gradually builds from a tin shack in a Delhi graveyard.
Roy's prose is breathtaking; the presence of India isn't just a 'character' in a metaphorical way, but is brought to life with a sense of magical realism, with Delhi as a real, living and breathing 'thousand year old sorceress, dozing but not asleep, even at this hour.'
Despite being 20 years in the making, the novel is so relevant to the current moment. It preaches tolerance in the light of religious and transgender persecution, a highlighter with the rise of extremist politics in the last year. It presents an India in the age of video and selfies – with the videos on phones that characters obsess over mirroring an age obsessed with live streaming and on-the-go access.
The only fault was that the multiple narratives and wide-ranging nature made it hard work to keep track of the different strands of the story. But despite this, it is such a beautiful novel, evoking a sense of India, balancing the death, suffering and misery that features throughout with kindness, tolerance and hope.