NEW YORK • Over the past two decades, Indian novelist and activist Arundhati Roy has published dozens of essays and non-fiction works, taking on subjects such as the dangers of Hindu nationalism, government corruption, environmental degradation and income inequality.
So it irritates her, naturally, when people complain that she has been absent from the literary scene for the last 20 years.
"I've always been slightly short with people who say, 'You haven't written anything again', as if all the non-fiction I've written is not writing," she said in a 2014 interview with The New York Times Magazine.
But for fans of Roy's fiction, the extended wait is about to end. She is poised to make a comeback with The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness, which will be released in the United States this June by Alfred A. Knopf.
It is her first new novel since her debut, The God Of Small Things, came out in 1997, to rapturous reviews. It won the Booker Prize and drew comparisons to works by Salman Rushdie, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and V.S. Naipaul.
Roy has been working on The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness, a contemporary story set in the Indian subcontinent, for nearly a decade.
"I have lived with the characters in this book for close to 10 years," she said in a statement. "Between them they have conspired to confound accepted categories and notions - including my own - of identity and gender, nationhood and patriotism, faith, family, motherhood, death - and love itself."
Roy, 55, faces steep expectations with her follow-up to The God Of Small Things. In writing her first novel, she drew on her experiences growing up in Kerala as the daughter of a divorced Syrian Christian woman.
The story centres on a family in southern India whose lives are upended when a young visiting relative drowns, and explores the religious, caste and class divisions that have shaped the lives of the characters.
The book sold more than eight million copies worldwide in 42 languages, turning Roy, who was then a 37-year-old screenwriter, into a literary sensation.
For years afterwards, her fans and publishers eagerly awaited her next work of fiction.
But she instead threw herself into political activism and became a vocal supporter of the Kashmiri separatist movement, an opponent of the US intervention in Afghanistan, and an advocate for human rights and environmental causes.
I have lived with the characters in this book for close to 10 years," she said in a statement. "Between them they have conspired to confound accepted categories and notions - including my own - of identity and gender, nationhood and patriotism, faith, family, motherhood, death - and love itself.
ARUNDHATIROY in a statement about The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness
"If you read her non-fiction, it becomes clear: She is someone who cares about people and justice, and the world we live in," Ms Robin Desser, Roy's editor at Alfred A. Knopf, wrote in an e-mail.
Roy has cryptically alluded to her new novel for years. In a 2011 interview with the British newspaper The Independent, she described showing part of it to her friend John Berger, the novelist and critic, who urged her to put everything else aside to finish the book.
But she was once again distracted by politics, when she was invited to travel to the jungles of central India to meet Maoist insurgents, a group whose causes she has sympathised with.
Happily for her fans, she eventually returned to the story.