Through nearly two hundred pages, I wondered: Will nobody ask the lady a tough question? One that isn't a gentle full-toss that Arundhati Roy can swat for six? Then on page 185, S Anand suggests that her views are just "tokenistic", just a "career" for her.
How Roy responds is unimportant here. The fact that she is asked even this much, in this book, stands out. I mean, Roy is outspoken, opinionated, astonishingly gifted with words: all that, sure, but why won't her interlocutors challenge her more than they do? Turns out that's my major problem with this book.
I mean, I thought "God of Small Things" was outstanding, and when I read the first couple of Roy's political essays, I wished I could have written them. But the rest started to get wearying, and I felt that in this book: weary. This is a knight who slashes at everything, sees deep connections between all the world's demons, and I think: is there really a value to that? To seeing everything as one massive beast to be brought down? Would we not be more effective if we fought each battle as it comes, on those terms?
Yes, I think Roy is wrong on many counts. For example, I don't believe the US is a land of "emotional emptiness", that "thrives on insecurity, on fear", that it's a "culture under siege" -- things she said to David Barsamian in 2002. Yet I agree with other insights she has. There's "a space for the unpredictable" in India, she also tells Barsamian, "which is life as it should be." That's just why I find this vast country so fascinating.
Like nobody else, Roy makes you think about issues, question assumptions. The old mantra is that journalists should afflict the comfortable: Roy's ability to afflict is why she gets many people mad. And in the more recent interviews, her arguments are less flamboyant, more considered -- and more persuasive for being so. So yes, I believe there's a place for Roy's views -- whether you agree with them or not -- and how she presents them.
I just wish her interviewers were as feisty as she is.