Dams, Lives and State Terror

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Review of 'War Talk', Arundhati Roy, Southend Press £8

Over the last few years there have been a disturbing number of right wing Tory politicians who have felt the urge to write novels, such as Jeffrey Archer, Ann Widdecombe and Edwina Currie. Thankfully, Arundhati Roy is a novelist who has jumped headlong into the political arena. She writes beautifully, is a campaigner in the anti-globalisation movement and is really, really angry.

War Talk is a collection of six short essays written by Roy between May 2002 and January 2003. Roy is based in Delhi and, while she writes against the background of threatened nuclear war with Pakistan and the rise of the fascism in India, the spectre looming large in the foreground is that of Bush, the imminent war with Iraq and the never-ending 'war on terror'.

Reading these essays is like being blasted by a hot wind of anger. Roy begins one of the essays by saying, 'For reasons I do not fully understand, fiction dances out of me. Non-fiction is wrenched out by the aching, broken world I wake up to every morning.' Roy rages against this broken world, against the poverty and war, against the horrific attacks on Muslims in India and the machinations of the multinational corporations. She is eloquently scathing about the Indian government, and Bush and Blair, but also confronts questions of nationalism, empire, and how we fight for real democracy. In the best essay in the collection, 'Come September', Roy takes the attacks on the World Trade Centre on 11 September 2001 as her starting point but then moves on to talk about Chile, Palestine and sanctions on Iraq, and finally gives a no-holds-barred commentary on the way that the free market and its institutions undermine democracy itself.

Along with the anger in War Talk, there is also tremendous optimism. Roy is well known for her active support of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), a huge movement against the building of a series of dams in the Narmada Valley that will threaten the homes and livelihoods of millions of people. Roy has been arrested for her activities with the NBA and, after winning the Booker Prize, donated her prize money to the campaign. In such grassroots campaigns, along with the anti-globalisation and anti-war movements, Roy sees the possibility of building another world free of war, poverty and oppression. In reporting on the rise of fascism in India, she foresees the world of barbarism that will result if we fail to fight for our new world.

War Talk is a passionate indictment of globalisation, imperialism and war, but even in the depths of despair Roy never loses her hope in the struggle. This is a well researched, informative and extremely readable book that will make you rage against the system and want to get active. As Roy says, 'Another world is not only possible, she's on her way.'

Go out and buy this book now.