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Walking with the Comrades by Arundhati Roy (thoughts)

November 10, 2011

po·lem·ic [puh-lem-ik, poh-] : a controversial argument, as one against some opinion, doctrine, etc.

As I was reading Walking with the Comrades by Arundhati Roy, I kept thinking “Wow! This could be the poster child for a modern-day polemic. But how do I say that in a blog post without it sounding derogatory?”. Hence, opening the post with a definition. This is a slim book, more of an extended essay or series of journalistic articles, and it’s full of impassioned arguments against many of the philosophies that guide the world today (i.e. neoliberal economics, industrialisation as progress, lack of concern for the environment, etc.). It arose out of Roy’s visits to a rebel group (sometimes described as ‘Maoist guerillas’) in central India who are fighting the government to try to keep their land from being mined, and combines personal, travelogue-esque stories from the area with quite a bit of political/philosophical recrimination and a small amount of background information. This is not a book to read if you’re looking for an academic, ‘impartial’ account of the situation. Roy presents her beliefs and arguments as forcefully as possible, and it’s obvious she means the book to be a call to arms. As such, and judging the book on its own terms, I think she succeeds admirably.

Really, it’s Roy’s passion that carried me along. I read the book in only a couple sittings, because I felt like I was caught up in a current of (justified) anger and couldn’t tear myself away. I don’t have enough knowledge to truly weigh her claims, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying it as she lambasts various corrupt entities, including the Indian government and the mining industry. That being said, I’m not quite sure what kind of ‘target audience’ is best for the book. If you enjoy well-written, left-of-center political rhetoric, I definitely suggest you give this a go. And there’s a strong sense of place, so those addicted to reading about India will probably enjoy it as well! I’m glad to have read it, because I had a lukewarm reaction towards her novel, Walking With the Comrades and thus never searched for her other books. It turns out she’s written quite a bit of nonfiction, all of which sounds of similar persuasion, that I’ll now be seeking out. Even if I don’t fully agree with her politics, I occasionally find it refreshing to read well-written arguments by someone not really worried about alienating or angering others! ;) And it’s just neat to see democracy at work in such a different country.

Suggested Companion Reads

  • The Story of Stuff by Anne Leonard(I haven’t blogged about this yet, but it’s a marvelous look at the impact of making various consumer goods; the discussion of mining expanded on some of the topics Roy’s book mentions. I highly recommend this book to everyone, but it’d definitely be a good companion here! Also, the book is an expansion of the twenty-minute film which you can watch online for free, in case you missed it when it first appeared.)
  • A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid (Another highly political polemic and short book, this time about Antigua.)
  • The Jaguar Smile by Salman Rushdie (Rushdie’s also an Indian author who wrote a left-leaning political travelogue after spending time with some ‘guerillas’: in this case, Nicaragua.)
  • Hope, Human and Wild by Bill McKibben (This is a much more upbeat account of times when the ‘little guys’ have taken on the big guys and won: it includes several successful case studies from the ‘developing world’ in which they helped themselves and did so in innovative, pro-environment ways. One of the places he visits is in India, too.)
13 Comments leave one →
  1. November 10, 2011 7:49 am

    I’ve only read The God of Small Things and I didn’t care for it at all. THIS, on the other hand, sounds right up my alley! It’s definitely a book I’ll be looking for and possibly downloading.

    • November 11, 2011 6:00 am

      I can’t wait to see what you think of it! I was pleasantly surprised, since I wasn’t fond of GoST either.

  2. November 10, 2011 8:41 am

    Thanks for reminding me of The Jaguar’s Smile, Eva. I have been following Arundhati Roy since The God of Small Things and am excited to see Walking with the Comrades. Vandana Shiva is also one of my favorite Indian authors. Have you read her work?

    • November 11, 2011 6:01 am

      No, I haven’t read her! Thanks for the rec. :)

  3. November 10, 2011 9:56 am

    thanks for reviewing this. i really love her books and i can’t wait to read this one.

  4. November 10, 2011 4:28 pm

    As I started reading your thoughts, I immediately thought of A Small Place, and I see from your companion reads that you did too.

  5. November 10, 2011 11:48 pm

    I loved The God of Small Things but have not read any of her non-fiction books.

  6. November 11, 2011 11:36 am

    I’ve never read any of her work and am not afraid to read something that is “left of center” so I think this one would appeal to me.

  7. lubylou12 permalink
    November 16, 2011 5:24 am

    This book sounds good but I’m torn because I really, really didn’t like The God of Small Things and it’s kind of put me off for life. Is the writting style quite simillar? it sounds quite different which could prompt me to read the book.

  8. November 16, 2011 9:42 pm

    Sounds really interesting! And definitely sounds like something that I would enjoy reading. Will add it to the list…

  9. November 23, 2011 8:45 am

    I like God of Small Things. I’m a bit wary of her move towards non-fiction polemicist work but hey? I read an article some week ago where she defends this current interest of hers. She is such a good writer and I bet you enjoyed her lambasting. There is nothing like a well-written call to arms even if I’m reading it lying down on my bed and I have no intention whatsoever to join the fight :) Thanks for the review.


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