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Capitalism: A Ghost Story – Book Review

Capitalism: A Ghost Story by Arundhati Roy examines the dark side of democracy in contemporary India, and shows how the demands of globalized capitalism have subjugated billions of people to the highest and most intense forms of racism and exploitation.

Arundhati’s Demands

When you think of ghost stories, you may recall Henry James, Hamlet, or Banquo. Maybe you smell a camp fire, the story going around, the threat of the flame as you extend your arm and that impaled marshmallow over the heat. Or maybe you sense those dying embers, the cool of night taking its grip.

In Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, the ghosts play the role of illuminating something that the world judges to be supposedly good i.e. solid work ethic, but is later evinced by those chain-wielding spirits to be hellish, poisonous, and punitive.

What chains do Marley’s ghost rattle and bear? The chains of those he’d sacrifice if he would choose Scrooge’s path, the people he’d step on, enslave, chain, if he emulated this old paragon of success. Here, Scrooge is the boss and Marley the worker. It is hard to avoid this Marxist reading of one of English’s most classic texts.

In fact, Marx, uses the language of the paranormal to describe capitalism, which he said, “conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange, that it is like the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the power of the netherworld whom he has called up by his spells.”

At their core, ghost stories imply the dead will not go away.

Arundhati Roy’s new book A Ghost Story, her fourth critical non-fiction book in as many years, is also her most dire. For Roy, capitalism is dead, but in its wake, we are left ill and robbed of our sleep.

The author of the 1997 Booker Prize winner God of Small Things writes like (and lives like) an explorer, a woman working in the field, mosquitoes, jungle mud, and gorillas at her every step. Her daring is contagious. Now, in this new take on contemporary India, her voice is most confident and hyper-aware.

In May 2014, India votes in its presidential election. The front-runner Nurendra Modi has been accused by Salman Rushdie and others of allowing a pogrom against Muslims that killed thousands while serving as Minister of Gujarat. For these crimes, the U.S. State Department revoked his visa. The context of Roy’s book seamlessly bridges the political and economic.

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