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The Cost of Living Paperback – October 12, 1999

ISBN-13: 978-0375756146 ISBN-10: 0375756140 Edition: 0th

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers 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"Awhich 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 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From 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.ARavi Shenoy, Hinsdale P.L., IL
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Series: Modern Library Paperbacks
  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library (October 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375756140
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375756146
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.3 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #827,141 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Arundhati Roy was born in 1959 in Shillong, India. She studied architecture in New Delhi, where she now lives. She has worked as a film designer and screenplay writer in India. Roy is the author of the novel The God of Small Things, for which she received the 1997 Booker Prize. The novel has been translated into dozens of languages worldwide. She has written several non-fiction books, including The Cost of Living, Power Politics, War Talk, An Ordinary Person's Guide to Empire, and Public Power in the Age of Empire. Roy was featured in the BBC television documentary Dam/age, which is about the struggle against big dams in India. A collection of interviews with Arundhati Roy by David Barsamian was published as The Checkbook and the Cruise Missile. She is a contributor to the Verso anthology Kashmir: The Case for Freedom. Her newest books are Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers and Capitalism: A Ghost Story, published by Haymarket Books, and Walking with the Comrades, published by Penguin. Roy is the recipient of the 2002 Lannan Foundation Cultural Freedom Prize.

Customer Reviews

Read this book, think and act.
Like the great novelist she is, Roy writes with compassion, an intense focus, and is very articulate.
Nathan Joyce
Her first book was the phenomenally good novel The God of Small Things .
Joe Sherry

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By George N. Wells on January 23, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Ms. Roy captures the essence of the technological problems of the planet today. We humans like to think of ourselves as "Masters of the Universe." When, in fact, we are flawed creatures who do things without the wisdom to see the long-term consequences of our actions - be they building a dam or nuclear weapon.
It is not lost on this reader, that the "father" of the atomic bomb quoted the lines of Shiva when he first saw his weapon exploded - "I am become death, the destroyer of worlds." We humans are good at destruction; sometimes it even looks like building.
While Ms. Roy's prose is a bit less poetic than that found in "The God of Small Things," her passion makes up for the linguistic power. She is calling out the leaders, not only of India, but also of the world, to reconsider the consequences of what they are doing to the earth and its peoples. All of these actions, of course, in the names of progress and national defense.
It is not likely that Ms. Roy's writings will change the governments. But perhaps they will open your eyes as they did mine, to the realities of what we are doing on and to this planet. At the beginning of the 21st century we are again looking at the exploitation of the earth that nurtures us to the point where it may no longer support us.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By SKC on January 28, 2000
Format: Paperback
Not a book that would wow the reader with eloquence, but a passionate and serious account of two examples of the folly of massive state-sponsored projects "for the people's good."
What not enough reviewers have taken into account is the book's implicit indictment of modern Western thought, culture & politics on India's -- and Pakistan's -- people.
India & Pakistan are at war primarily because of the original British plan for Partition that created separate Hindu and Muslim states. Skillful Western diplomacy that has played one off against the other for fifty years keeps passions high and these two nations at each other's throats -- to neither's benefit.
By playing India & Pakistan off each other, each nation has been unable to break free from Soviet-style planning and join the rest of the developed world. They instead measure progress by 1940s and 1950s standards, both Soviet and Western, and the results, as outlined by Roy in this book, are devastating.
Now, the World Bank and IMF (whom Roy despise) are propping up the smaller middle-class at the great expense of most of India's population. 600 million illiterates; poor sanitation, hygiene, family planning & health care; and a completely corrupt economy are the problems -- yet Roy shows clearly that the state is moving in a direction farther away from solutions.
The West must take a great deal of responsibility for this, and the passion of Roy can't help but move one to action.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Ann Pai on July 21, 2006
Format: Paperback
My India-born spouse once described the difference in how he and I had been taught, through subtle societal reward, to make and respond to assertions. "If you say, 'The sky is blue,'" he said, "I think, 'Ann thinks the sky is blue.' But if I say to you, 'The sky is blue,' you say, 'Oh, it is?' You're ready to believe, just because I stated it as fact. That's why you hedge your thoughts with the words, 'I think,' rather than just saying what you think."

I recall that conversation as I read Arundhati Roy's The Cost of Living, in particular, the essay "The Greater Common Good." Because her voice is clear and compelling, my first response is, "Fifty million people have been displaced by ineffective dam-building in India! Good god, what can be done?"

Then I slow down. Remember. "Arundhati Roy thinks that fifty million people have been displaced in India, by dams she thinks are ineffective. Does she make her case?"

She does.

"The Greater Common Good" means to persuade, but its reportage is separable, sentence by sentence, from the argument. Roy's research is compiled, not from debunkable interviews, but from government plans and records, World Bank reviews and estimates of economic benefit and capital cost, and from statistics such as river flow, reservoir levels, areas of irrigated land, numbers of malaria cases, and megawatts of power produced. More than careful, Roy gleefully points out that the Indian government has produced no studies to verify the difference from the lowest baseline calculation of displaced people, or to quantify agricultural benefits gained from completed dam projects.

To follow along, you'll need to work through numbers and a cast of characters, as with any story about accounting and the preservation of power.
Read more ›
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By R on October 27, 2000
Format: Paperback
Contrary to what one of the reviewers above would have us believe, this in fact is a great book. It takes some courage to go with an open mind and curiosity and come back with the facts. It is very easy (and convenient) for people with cosy lives to dimsiss disturbing details about the real injustices done to India's poor in the name of developement because doing otherwise would force one to examine ones own life and that in turn can lead to a lot of discomfort.
However it is well worth remembering that an unexamined life is not worth living. If we want to continue to mainatain a facade in the name of Developement while constantly sweeping the dirt under the rug, we must realize that sooner or later the bulge is going to show and the stench is going to be unbearable. Guess what? It is showtime. The ugliness and calousness with which we pursue "Development" is now out in the open. Now is as good a time as any for all of us to ask ourselves, what is the basis for all that we do in the name of Development and who are we helping develop anyway? The answers may lead to discomfort and may force us to give up our preconceived notions and prejudices. If enough people do this perhaps in the long run we will be the better for it.
Read this book, think and act.
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