Roy says she had given ideological opponents a handy hate figure. "In India I'm portrayed more as a hysterical, lying, anti-national harridan," she says. "In this adversarial game that goes on, you can get pinned down to spewing facts and numbers, but those are not the only truths ... I've done that. I've fought that battle. But the distillation of those things into literature is a different kind of intervention."
Ms Roy's non-fiction books are in fact a wasteland where facts and numbers are notable by their absence. Exhortatory whimsy is what she does. I suspect that's why she's resolved and announced - long before she's written it - that she'll write a second novel. One of my criticisms of the cult of Noam Chomsky is that few of its followers appear intent on reading much outside the great man's oeuvre; if you have a synoptic explanation of the whole of politics and society, then why bother with anything else? Arundhati Roy is of this tendency, but is more messianic than most. She wrote a foreword to a new edition of Chomsky's book For Reasons of State in 2003, in which she said:
As someone who grew up on the cusp of both American and Soviet propaganda (which more or less neutralised each other), when I first read Noam Chomsky, it occurred to me that his marshalling of evidence, the volume of it, the relentlessness of it, was a little — how shall I put it? — insane. Even a quarter of the evidence he had compiled would have been enough to convince me. I used to wonder why he needed to do so much work. But now I understand that the magnitude and intensity of Chomsky's work is a barometer of the magnitude, scope, and relentlessness of the propaganda machine that he's up against. He's like the wood-borer who lives inside the third rack of my bookshelf. Day and night, I hear his jaws crunching through the wood, grinding it to a fine dust. It's as though he disagrees with the literature and wants to destroy the very structure on which it rests. I call him Chompsky.
Doesn't this excruciating, simpering obsequiousness make your toes curl? And having entrusted her historical appreciation to Chomsky she can come up with dogmatic assertions such as: "The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a cold, calculated experiment carried out to demonstrate America's power. At the time, President Truman described it as 'the greatest thing in history'." The origin of Ms Roy's statement is probably Chomsky's own assertion 40 years ago in a debate in the New York Review of Books that "the bombing of Nagasaki, in particular, was history's most abominable experiment", but at least Chomsky appears to have become warier of this claim. In his 1996 book of interviews (one of so very many books of this type) Class Warfare, he states (emphasis added): "My impression is that the Nagasaki bomb was basically an experiment.... Somebody ought to check this out, I'm not certain."
Somebody ought indeed to check this out for Chomsky's benefit, as he clearly won't listen to the historians in the field. In his essay "Intelligence Forecasting for the Invasion of Japan: Previews of Hell", Military History Quarterly , Spring 1995, Edward J. Drea notes: "Countless decrypted messages from the high command in Tokyo underlined Japanese determination to fight to the death against the invaders. Japan's planned defense of Kyushu, unwittingly told to the Allies by the Japanese military in its own words, forecast beach-heads running red with American blood. Concern about estimated US losses for the operation runs through American decision makers' thinking." The rationale of using the A-bomb, right or wrong, was what Truman said it was: to avoid the certainty of massive US casualties in a ground invasion.
Truman did, by the way, say to the officer who handed him news of the Hiroshima bombing: "Captain Graham, this is the greatest thing in history." It doesn't appear to have occurred to Arundhati Roy that "greatest thing" in this context might have meant "most awesome event" rather than "that's simply wonderful news". And we can make a reasonable judgement of which is the more likely interpretation from eyewitness accounts of Truman's appearing deeply moved and then falling silent. (I owe this point to Robert J. Maddox, Weapons for Victory, 1995, p. 129.) There is, I fear, a great deal in the evaluation of history that will not occur to you if your source is Noam Chomsky. To Arundhati Roy: "Even a quarter of the evidence he had compiled would have been enough to convince me." But this isn't true: it takes precious little evidence to convince her of Chomsky's acuity, which may be why she desn't trouble to present any in her political writings.