15 June, 2021

The Book Of Perilous Sanity

When the refusal of ‘the new normal’ takes fictional form, what comes out is a sprawling tale of the triumph of ­broken lives—blossoms cutting defiantly through rock

Hazrat Of The Indeterminate
Old Delhi shrine of Sufi saint Sarmad Shaheed, prophet of borderless humanity
Photograph by Sanjay Rawat
The Book Of Perilous Sanity

Len Cohen comes in somewhere, perhaps on the Dal lake. Maybe not with those famous, wind-blown lines of his—“There’s a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in”—but they will do as a marker for this. Arundhati Roy, the novelist, is back. With a sprawling book, about being broken but being alive despite that, or maybe because of that. Eking out, drawing forth, from a frame where morbidity wells up like pus, a strange kind of sunshine. It’s an unlikely, fragile place for spring to bloom—a living quarters that includes the dead, just downwind of a morgue and mountains of medical waste. But it happens, like hardy blossoms cutting defiantly through rock. Like something that shouldn’t exist, but does.

That goes for the novel too. In many ways, this is a book of flaws. Its plot is an elaborate contrivance that allows the aut­hor to trawl through her pet themes, almost all of her very political non-fiction resume, tie them up in a loose bundle, and recast them in the complex half-light of fiction. Kashmir and...

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