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From Barnes & NobleThe Plague of Large Nations
In The Cost of Living, Arundhati Roy attacks a so-called Monument of Modern Civilization: the dam. One would think these modern advancements are harmless (if not dull), but Roy tells a stunning tale that is, essentially, about genocide. Placed in valleys with forests and rivers and villages, the dams are like bombs. Plant and animal life are forever eradicated, and people "are flushed out like rats from the land they have lived on for centuries." And these people, if they survive, become like "refugees of an unacknowledged war."
This isn't a new tragedy. Roy establishes that in the past 50 years, roughly 50 million citizens of India have been displaced by the big dams. This is a staggering amount of people, and when Roy uncovers the statistic through sound research, she aptly notes that she feels "like someone who's just stumbled on a massive grave." She also shows the real consequences for these millions of people. Like refugees in their own country, formerly self-sufficient citizens drift into urban slums or barbaric squatter camps. "I can warrant," Roy writes, "that the quality of their accommodation is worse than in any concentration camp of the Third Reich."
How did this happen? With the skill of a muckraking investigative journalist, Roy unravels the tangled web of greed and corruption behind the tragedy. "It's time to spill a few State secrets," she states. She does exactly this -- naming names and depicting the greedy motives of the World Bank and private consultants who have colluded in the mass destruction in exchange for "Range Rovers, holidays in Tuscany, and private schools for their children." Roy also portrays a current battle -- as activists and "the common man" attempt to take on the powers that be.
In the second half of this book, Roy rails against India's recent detonation of a nuclear bomb. She argues that rather than bringing power to India, the bomb is the "ultimate colonizer" -- "the most antihuman, outright evil thing." She lambastes the arrogance of politicians who claim to be democratic yet make no effort to educate and inform millions of their citizens. She mulls over questions of identity and imperialism, as well as her own personal post-fame conflicts with greed and responsibility. Roy's book is slim and concise. She gets right to the point and, while the point is harrowing, her gifts for language and storytelling make this book more than a polemic. The millions of readers who enjoyed The God of Small Things will find the same poetry and grace informing her view of a tragedy:
History has happened. It's over and done with. All we can do is to change its course by encouraging what we love instead of destroying what we don't. There is beauty yet in the brutal, damaged world of ours. Hidden, fierce, immense.