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The God of Small Things: A Novel Paperback – December 16, 2008
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“[The God of Small Things] offers such magic, mystery, and sadness that, literally, this reader turned the last page and decided to reread it. Immediately. It’s that haunting.”—USA Today
“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.”—The New York Times Book Review
“A novel of real ambition must invent its own language, and this one does.”—John Updike, The New Yorker
“Outstanding. A glowing first novel.”—Newsweek
“Splendid and stunning.”—The Washington Post Book World
About the Author
- Lexile measure : 840L
- Item Weight : 9.6 ounces
- Paperback : 333 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0812979656
- ISBN-13 : 978-0812979657
- Dimensions : 5.16 x 0.72 x 7.95 inches
- Publisher : Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (December 16, 2008)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #11,722 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Taking place in the small Indian town of Ayemenem, this is the story of twins Rahel and Estha and their deeply troubled extended family. The plot, which involves failed marriages, illicit love affairs, deaths, horrific forms of betrayal, and two kids trying to figure it all out, is secondary to the overarching theme of how we sometimes purposely and sometimes inadvertently destroy our own lives—generation after generation after generation. It is a story about family fights, forbidden love, forbidden sex, violent spousal abuse, child sexual abuse, incest, Indian politics, and the insurmountable differences between classes in India. And through it all Roy writes with a razor-sharp sharp perception of the comedy and tragedy of the human condition. Escapist reading this is not.
What makes it great literature: This is a celebration of language and the beauty of words. Each word is carefully chosen. Each sentence is perfect. The words flow like poetry and demand to be read a second time for their sheer beauty. But this isn't poetry. It's a novel. The structure, style and extraordinary word play are highly imaginative, perhaps even the work of a genius.
What makes it challenging: This tragic story is not told chronologically, jumping primarily between two distinct times—two weeks when the twins are 7 years old and later when they are 31 years old. And sometimes the jump comes without warning, which makes it very confusing. Key plot points are revealed long before they actually occur. And even while a major part of the plot is unfolding, the action jumps in time—from one day ahead to four days behind to two weeks ahead. As the author herself says, "It begins at the end and ends in the middle." Reading this book was not relaxing; it was work!
Advice: The first chapter is dense in important information, but because it jumps around in time and introduces many characters (yay for the Kindle X-ray feature!), I decided to reread the first 20 pages, something I don't remember ever doing before. It then all clicked for me…and I was off and running.
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.
Top reviews from other countries
Let’s consider why.
To begin with, the book is about a Syrian Christian family in Kerala, God’s Own Country in India. The story is about family intrigues, intrigues of love in and out of wedlock, political intrigues, industry ownership and labor movement intrigues. And children ensnared in the whole shindig.
While I am not Christian, part of my own ancestry is from Kerala, so I felt a sense of identity as I went through the book. I have identified and I have not identified.
After finishing the book and ruminating over it for a couple of days, I have not identified the protagonist. There are a few candidates in the book, but not one of them stands out more than the other. And yet, the story is whole.
There is an identifiable beginning, a mindboggling middle and a uncertain end that leaves the reader guessing. For a long time after the end, to be fair to the story.
I am not able to identify the writing style. It is crazy, and I am using that word after a lot of consideration. The storyline shows no respect for accepted theories on clarity of points of view and it shows scant deference to prescribed norms of backstory. It jumps from here to there and back, from him to her and back, from then to now and back with gray abandon. The tone of the book is neither bright white, nor dull black, but all shades of gray in between.
And yet, this extraordinary mishmash of ingredients works as a story, because it is almost horrifying in its underlying grime and struggle and pathos. It worked on me.
Lower caste characters are 'black calloused' characters are blind, paralysed and 'so black you couldn't see the blood'. Higher class characters are smooth and light skinned with dimples and classical violinist as a hobby. This is based in Kerala right? If you say so.
And the middle characters are all communists or Syrian Christians. That's it for them.
Laughable, the author's attempts at using the short lived communist movement as enlightening backdrop. Absolutely no connection or anything comes from the Communism angle. The author trying to be clever I guess. The author is not clever. She simply wrote a story pandering to white readers in the US (the British don't need such childish details about Indians). And this book is the Booker Prize receiver? What a joke...
Get ready for predictable child abuse, you can see this a mile away, as soon as you read about the ridiculously detailed descriptions of the clothes, hair, hair band, shoes, colour of shoes, colour of dress blah blah blah. This is all boringly repeated every single time the character arc moved a millimeter forward. The conclusion of the character arcs - all sad, somewhat disgusting and disappointing. Seriously, the author's attempts to be controversial is pushed out to twins having sex. That's it. That's where these character's, whom you have had to painfully follow throughout the book (in a boring not an emotional way). Their conclusion, after all, is twins having sex. Slow clap to the author...
Be prepared with being left angry and dismayed (even disgusted) at the end of this book. Absolutely no reward (positive or negative) at all.
Be prepared for coma inducing detailed descriptions throughout really, from the drooping leaves in the rain (wow how original) to the log in the river dancing (amazing) to the character of the spider in the crack being moody. So very unnecessary, long winded and ridiculous.
Go away and cleanse your palate with A Suitable Boy. Sea of Poppies. Red Earth Pouring Rain. Anything but this.
You may find it a little bit hard to keep up with certain character names, but you will never ever regret reading this book.
There is the story of two-egg twins, Esthappen and Rahel, whose love of the 'untouchable' Velutha, who is also loved ( in a different way) by their widowed mother at the centre. There is the presence in their lives of the twins' Oxford educated uncle whose widowed ex-wife returns from England with their daughter, Sophie Mol, (dies tragically). The account of the physical love between Ammu and Velutha is perhaps the crowning glory of achievement here. Read it and savour it.