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The God of Small Things Paperback – May 1, 1998
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"Offers such magic, mystery and sadness that, literally, this reader turned the last page and decided to reread it. Immediately. It's that hauntingly wonderful." -- USA Today
"A novel of real ambition must invent its own language, and this one does.... A Tiger Woodsian debut." -- John Updike, The New Yorker
"A splendid and stunning debut." -- Washington Post Book World
"Outstanding. A glowing first novel." -- Newsweek
"The quality of Ms. Roy's narration is so extraordinary at once so morally strenuous and so imaginatively supple that the reader remains enthralled all the way through." -- New York Times Book Review
About the Author
Arundhati Roy was trained as an architect. She has worked as a production designer and has written the screenplays for two films. She lives in New Delhi. This is her first book.
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This was one of the best books I have had to read for a class. It throws the twins into a situation they never dreamed of being in and shows how one person’s mistakes can affect an entire family. While reading, you slowly begin to see the children lose their innocence and trust in the good things that their world has to offer, which ultimately hardens their hearts.
The conclusion of this novel was very tragic and made me cry. When you learn who the “God of Small Things” is it makes you so happy but you also know what is going to happen and it is so upsetting. But once the twins are reunited as adults, they realize that there was always that special connection between them, even if it isn’t the connection you expect.
Roy’s work successfully shows the corruption of India’s current Love Laws and Caste System. She breaks down borders and builds her characters around these strict laws but allows them to step out of bounds. Through her social commentary, Roy thoroughly describes to the reader what needs to be changed in India. Roy is a fresh and strong voice that stands up against the laws of her land, showing others that change is necessary.
It was even better the second time around. Perhaps my life experience in the last twenty years has given me a greater appreciation of the story.
Roy's luminous prose makes reading an unadulterated pleasure, even when she is describing the tragic events of this tale. The story of fraternal ("two-egg" in the language of the book) twins Esthappen and Rahel and their childhood in the state of Kerala in the southern tip of India, as they try to understand and come to terms with their fractured family and as they learn to their eternal sorrow that the events of one day can change things forever, is a story which everyone who has ever been a child should be able to relate to.
Moreover, I thought the structure which Roy gave to the story was absolutely brilliant in its conception and execution. She begins the story at its end and ends it at its beginning and, throughout, the action slips effortlessly back and forth between the present and the beginnings in 1969.
The twins and their mother, Ammu, had returned to the family home in Ayemenem after the mother divorced her abusive drunkard husband. But because of the divorce, she is considered an outcast and she and her children are resented by the family, especially by her aunt, Baby Kochamma, a woman whose own desire for love has been thwarted.
In fact, everyone in this fraught household has been thwarted in love in one way or another.
Ammu's brother, Chako (Rhodes scholar, pickle baron, and radical Marxist), had married a woman in England but after their daughter was born, the first bloom of love faded and she left him for another man. Then, he, too, returned to Ayemenem.
Ammu's and Chako's mother, Mammachi, is a widow, now blind, who was regularly beaten by her husband with a brass pot when he was alive.
In this atmosphere of frustrated desires, Ammu must try to raise her children and give them happy lives.
The caste system is still very much a part of society in India in 1969 and it pollutes relations at every level. The twins have a friend, teacher, and protector in Velutha, a member of the Untouchable caste. He is someone who grew up with their mother. The two children love him by day, but, in secret, their lonely mother loves him at night. It is, of course, a forbidden love and one that can only end in grief.
The catalyst for the tragedy to come is the Christmas visit to the home by Chako's ex-wife, Margaret, and his beloved daughter, Sophie. It's impossible to further describe the plot without spoilers. Suffice to say that no one escapes unchanged.
Roy loads her narrative with foreshadowing so that one feels a constant sense of trepidation and anxiety. When the worst happens, it is hardly a surprise and yet the reader is still devastated.
What strikes me as most tragic is not so much the suffering of these flawed characters, but the fact that such suffering is so commonplace. We are reading of the effects of the caste system in India in the 1960s; it might just as easily be about racism, misogyny, xenophobia in America today. Human nature has not improved in the last fifty years. In that regard, sadly, Roy's story stands up very well to the passage of time.
Rahel and Estha who, though they are “two-egg twins,” share each other’s inner lives as they grow up in a world shaped by their mother, Ammu, their Uncle Chaco, their grandaunt, Baby Kochama, and the Paradise Pickle and Preserves factory owned by their grandmother, Mamachi. The world of Small Things. As the story opens, they are returning to Ayamenem as adults split from each other by a past shaped in some way by the death of their cousin, Sophie Mol.
We then return to the world of seven-year olds on their way to the airport to meet Chaco’s British ex-wife, and their cousin, Sophie Mol. Through their eyes, we learn with them the adult world, where western culture has descended via television onto the already chaotic colonial mix of Indian and British. Estha wears his “Elvis puff. His “Special Outing Puff.” Rahel’s hair is held by a “Love in Tokyo,”—two beads on a rubber band—and her “Airport Frock.”
The story of the tragedy that ended that visit unfolds slowly through the lives of the household as each stumbles through the incoherent mix of language and custom—The God of Big Things. The children learn the mix of English and Indian culture along with universal adult axioms (control your Hopes, not doing so is a Bad Sign) with an innocence that makes its incoherence hilarious and heartwarming. They fill us with joy and dread. They are, as their mother sees them “small bewildered frogs engrossed in each other’s company, lolloping arm in arm down a highway full of hurtling traffic. Entirely oblivious of what trucks can do to frogs.”
And inevitably, it happens. The mix childish misadventure and Big God tabu that comes crashing down in an afternoon on the river is horrifying and devastating. We have come to love these people and feel a part of their struggle to make sense of the world.