The Cost of Living

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In her novel The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy -- with a great heart but an unrelenting eye -- drew the unforgettable portrait of one family in India. Now she lavishes the same acrobatic language and fierce humanity on the future of her beloved country. In this spirited polemic, Arundhati Roy dares to take on two of the great illusions of India's progress: the massive dam projects which were supposed to haul this sprawling subcontinent into the modern age, but which instead have displaced untold millions, ...

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Overview

In her novel The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy -- with a great heart but an unrelenting eye -- drew the unforgettable portrait of one family in India. Now she lavishes the same acrobatic language and fierce humanity on the future of her beloved country. In this spirited polemic, Arundhati Roy dares to take on two of the great illusions of India's progress: the massive dam projects which were supposed to haul this sprawling subcontinent into the modern age, but which instead have displaced untold millions, and the detonation of India's first nuclear bomb, with all its attendant Faustian bargains. Merging her inimitable voice with the moral outrage, imaginative sweep and narrative gifts of a Dickens, Roy peels away the mask of democracy and prosperity to show the true costs hidden beneath. For those who have been mesmerized by her fictional vision of India, here is a sketch -- traced in fire -- of its topsy-turvy society, where the lives of the many are sacrificed for the comforts of the few.

About the Author:

Arundhati Roy was trained as an architect. Her first novel, The God of Small Things, won the Booker Prize, spent 49 weeks on the New York Times bestseller lists, and has been published in 33 languages. She lives in New Delhi.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The 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.

—Margot Towne

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The author of the Booker Prize-winning novel The God of Small Things dons a pundit's hat in her second book, and it's an awkward fit. This slim volume offers two previously published magazine articles. "The Greater Common Good," which appeared in Outlook, an Indian magazine, argues against the building of a controversial dam on the Narmada River in India. Roy notes that 60% of the 200,000 people likely to be uprooted by the project are tribal people, many illiterate, who will be deprived of their original livelihoods and land. Drawing on studies and government and court documents, Roy criticizes the World Bank, the Indian government and a political system that favors interest groups at the expense of the poor. In the second essay, "The End of Imagination," a criticism of India's decision to test a nuclear bomb that was published in the Nation in September 1998, Roy asks why India built the bomb when more than 400 million Indians are illiterate and live in absolute poverty. It's a good question, but fully a fifth of the article is devoted to a friend telling Roy that she has become so famous that the rest of her life would be "vaguely unsatisfying"--which is a fair description of this book. Roy surely has meaningful things to say about India. But she is not yet nearly as accomplished a political critic as she is a novelist. This effort, marred by general attacks on "the system" and personal digressions that distract a reader from the substantive issues at hand, is cursory and na ve. That Roy anticipates this criticism doesn't render it any less valid. (Oct.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
The phenomenal success of Roy's Booker Prize winning first novel The God of Small Things (LJ 4/15/97) has metamorphosed her into an activist supporting unpopular causes. This book consists of two parts: "The Greater Common Good" attacks the construction of the Sardar Sarovar Dam on the Narmada river in western India, while "The End of Imagination" denounces India's nuclear tests in May 1998. The Save the Narmada movement, a grass-roots, anti-dam movement that has been agitating for over a decade, believes that instead of being a solution to India's water and power shortages, the still-incomplete dam will cause immense distress owing to the displacement of 40 million people, the submergence of 245 villages, inequities in resettlement, and environmental disasters. Roy's polemical tract on their behalf, while not a dispassionate inquiry, raises some important questions about the real price of "development," whether in the form of big dams or bombs. For public and academic libraries.--Ravi Shenoy, Hinsdale P.L., IL Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In her first non-fiction work, award winning novelist Roy (The God of Small Things, 1997) reveals the authoritarian paternalism of the Indian state that lies behind a mask of benevolence. To Roy, India with all its fissures and factions is a fictitious nation created by the state to legitimate itself. Once the fiction is in place, the state can justify its actions in the name of the common good no matter how injurious these actions may be in reality. So it is with India's undertaking of massive dam and irrigation projects and its successful detonation of a nuclear bomb, the subjects respectively of the two essays in this volume. The second essay offers the bomb as an example of state arrogance and foolishness whose potential consequences are obvious and terrible. In the first essay, which will likely be more revelatory to American audiences, Roy focuses her attention on the Naramada valley, home to 325,000 people, mostly of minority tribes. When the building of a series of huge dams is completed the valley will flood and all will lose their homes, becoming, in a bloodless acronym, PAPs: Project Affected Persons. A whole way of life will end as PAPs are relocated to dismal camps or end up in urban slums. Roy clearly and bitingly demonstrates, however, that it is not at all clear the project will do what it is supposed to. It may use more electricity than it generates or destroy more farmland than it creates, and those who are to receive drinking water may never have a drop reach them. The Indian state goes on its haughty way, blithely dismissing all doubts. Yet the people of the Naramada valley have organized and resisted, and though the outcome is unclear, this resistance is whatinspires Roy. This resistance, not the state, is the home of Indian democracy, and she urges the struggle to continue (royalties from the book are going to the organization heading this struggle). With eloquent anger and careful research, Roy expertly captures the faces of both folly and courage. (Author tour)
From the Publisher
Praise for The God of Small Things:

"Treading Roy's maze, we learn a great deal about a 'vast, violent, circling, driving, ridiculous, insane, unfeasible, public turmoil of a nation.' . . . The God of Small Things delivers so much terror and beauty, and so omniscient a view of India. . . . Like a devotionally built temple, it builds a massive interlocking structure of fine, intensely felt details." -- John Updike, The New Yorker

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375756146
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/1/1999
  • Series: Modern Library Series
  • Edition description: MODERN LIB
  • Pages: 176
  • Product dimensions: 5.15 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.34 (d)

Meet the Author

Arundhati Roy was trained as an architect. Her first novel, The God of Small Things, won the Booker Prize, spent forty-nine weeks on the New York Times bestseller lists, and has been published in thirty-three languages. She lives in New Delhi.
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Read an Excerpt


May 1998. It'll go down in history books, provided of course we have history books to go down in. Provided, of course, we have a future. There's nothing new or original left to be said about nuclear weapons. There can be nothing more humiliating for a writer of fiction to have to do than restate a case that has, over the years, already been made by other people in other parts
of the world, and made passionately, eloquently, and knowledgeably.

I am prepared to grovel. To humiliate myself abjectly, because, in the circumstances, silence would be indefensible. So those of you who are willing: let's pick our parts, put on these discarded costumes, and speak our secondhand lines in this sad secondhand play. But let's not forget that the stakes we're playing for are huge. Our fatigue and our shame could mean the end of us. The end of our children and our children's children. Of everything we love. We have to reach within ourselves and find the strength to think. To fight.

Once again we are pitifully behind the times--not just scientifically and technologically (ignore the hollow claims), but more pertinently in our ability to grasp the true nature of nuclear weapons. Our Comprehension of the Horror Department is hopelessly obsolete. Here we are, all of us in India and in Pakistan, discussing the finer points of politics, and foreign policy, behaving for all the world as though our governments have just devised a newer, bigger bomb, a sort of immense hand grenade with which they will annihilate the enemy (each other) and protect us from all harm. How desperately we want to believe that. What wonderful, willing, well-behaved, gullible subjects we have turned out to be.The rest of humanity (yes, yes, I know, I know, but let's ignore them for the moment. They forfeited their votes a long time ago), the rest of the rest of humanity may not forgive us, but then the rest of the rest of humanity, depending on who fashions its views, may not know what a tired, dejected heartbroken people we are. Perhaps it doesn't realize how urgently we need a miracle. How deeply we yearn for magic.

If only, if only, nuclear war was just another kind of war. If only it was about the usual things--nations and territories, gods and histories. If only those of us who dread it are just worthless moral cowards who are not prepared to die in defense of our beliefs. If only nuclear war was the kind of war in which countries battle countries and men battle men. But it isn't. If there is a nuclear war, our foes will not be China or America or even each other. Our foe will be the earth herself. The very elements--the sky, the air, the land, the wind and water--will all turn against us. Their wrath will be terrible.

Our cities and forests, our fields and villages will burn for days. Rivers will turn to poison. The air will become fire. The wind will spread the flames. When everything there is to burn has burned and the fires die, smoke will rise and shut out the sun. The earth will be enveloped in darkness. There will be no day. Only interminable night. Temperatures will drop to far below freezing and nuclear winter will set in. Water will turn into toxic ice. Radioactive fallout will seep through the earth and contaminate groundwater. Most living things, animal and vegetable, fish and fowl, will die. Only rats and cockroaches will breed and multiply and compete with foraging, relict humans for what little food there is.

What shall we do then, those of us who are still alive? Burned and blind and bald and ill, carrying the cancerous carcasses of our children in our arms, where shall we go? What shall we eat? What shall we drink? What shall we breathe?

The head of the Health, Environment and Safety Group of the Bhabha Atomic Research Center in Bombay has a plan. He declared in an interview (The Pioneer, 24 April 1998) that India could survive nuclear war. His advice is that if there is a nuclear war, we take the same safety measures as the ones that scientists have recommended in the event of accidents at nuclear plants.

Take iodine pills, he suggests. And other steps such as remaining indoors, consuming only stored water and food and avoiding milk. Infants should be given powdered milk. "People in the danger zone should immediately go to the ground floor and if possible to the basement."

What do you do with these levels of lunacy? What do you do if you're trapped in an asylum and the doctors are all dangerously deranged?
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Table of Contents

The Greater Common Good 1
The End of Imagination 91
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 10, 2014

    Brave and empathic

    A couragesly honest work. Roy pulls no punches in her critique of her homeland's goverment and governments abroad. Roy has put her pen to paper with a purpose, a purpose that is undeniably immediate and has somehow lacked the attention it demands.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 21, 2002

    Eloquence, Critique, and Novel

    As one could tell from her award winning debut, Roy has important, illuminating political and social dissent to spotlight. Turning to Non-Fiction to express the savage hypocrisy and sly oppression India's corrupt government serves its constituents ... Roy has created a thought provoking, critical discourse for all readers.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 1999

    A silly polemic

    Roy speaks of things that are politically correct such as no big dams and no nuclear testing. But her reasoning is shallow; she is clearly out of her depth.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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