A Therapist Reviews a Book: The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

A Therapist Reviews a Book: The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

A Therapist Reviews a Book: The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

We love it when we see a therapist review a book. After all, they can give us insights into the human psychology aspect of a book that we might not have considered ourselves. This can greatly enhance our reading. Therefore, we’re thrilled to bring you a book review by associate therapist Julie Peters. She tells us about “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness” by Arundhati Roy.

Who Is Therapist Julie Peters?

cmp therapist Julie Peters

If you aren’t familiar with Julie Peters, check out our therapist interview with her. She shares her work as a therapist, what her clinical foundations are, and some of her best recommendations for other books and various resources.

Book Review by Therapist Julie Peters

Ever since I read the book, The God of Small Things back in 1999, I have been eager to read more from Arundhati Roy. Last night, I finished The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. What I found was that this is a novel that made an enormous impact on me.

As therapists, we are asked to suspend our own paradigms and preferences for things like political opinions, religious leanings, aesthetic choices, etc. in service of our clients.

As a result, many of us discover that this kind of openness and curiosity held while suspending our prejudgements often leads us to open our eyes and hearts wider. Sometimes, while I listen to the worldview presented by my clients, I even change my mind about my own views. It isn’t the client’s job to challenge or enlighten their therapist, but sometimes this is a byproduct of the therapeutic relationship. 

Book Review by Therapist Julie Peters

Furthermore, therapists are often encouraging their clients to stay open and curious to the people and situations in their lives.

Often in therapy we collaborate with clients to gently encourage these clients to develop more empathy. I personally believe that when a human being cultivates an increased capacity for the empathy of another living being, that human’s capacity for acceptance of personal circumstances may also increase thus reducing many mental health symptoms. 

Ms. Roy speaks directly to this cultivation of empathy.

She weaves together several incredibly complex character narratives by telling and retelling events of notable significance to the plot through each character’s point of view until these characters meet and/or find a momentous intersection with one another. These characters navigate the political upheaval of India over the span of several decades. Narratives are presented from the perspective of Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Communists, Kashmir citizens, trans folks, folks of differing castes, folks of differing professions and perspectives, etc. Terror and violence are perpetrated over and over again by one group against another until no group that any character belongs to is collectively seen as a perpetrator or victim.

Because Roy weaves together so many perspectives of the same events, we, as the readers, grow weary of the meaninglessness of violence and the refuge of embracing diversity.

What remains intact throughout this book are multiple discoveries these characters experience that support the idea that inclusion and curiosity of other humans and their beliefs, hopes, dreams, and prayers create a kind of shelter from the cruelty of forcing assimilation to any particular doctrine. At the same time, the novel highlights the bravery of resistance to oppression by always providing the reader a beautiful character standing bravely against occupation of one’s homeland and one’s “heartland.” 

A Therapist Reviews a Book: The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

I was aware as I read this book that I come from a place of white, cisgender, able-bodied American privilege.

I have not lived with a daily, likely threat of violence or through the horrors of an occupying regime in my own homeland. I did not come to this book as an insider familiar with the culture, customs, and history and thus my lens is one of some naivete from a safe distance. Undoubtedly, this book would be experienced differently by survivors of the events or similar events referenced in the book. I like that this book does not center “another white narrative” but challenges ideas of the white colonizer. The book also left me with a powerful affinity and identification with queer characters as I navigate my own queerness in a society less and less able to hold queer narratives. This is a book for anyone who can extend openness and curiosity to other humans; this book teaches us the cost of not practicing radical empathy for our fellow travelers.

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Want to work with Julie Peters or one of our other associate therapists? Contact us for a consultation today.