Sunday, July 13, 2008

"The God of Small Things" by Arundhati Roy

Year of publication: 1997
Genre: novel
Setting and time: Kerala, southwestern India, 1969 and present time
Themes: family life, postcolonial India, caste taboos, communism

Man Booker Prize, 1997

About the author: Arundhati Roy (1961 - ) was born in India to a Syrian Christian mother and a Bengali Hindu father. She spent her childhood in Ayemenem, Kerala, and then studied architecture in Delhi. The God of Small Things (1997) is her first and only novel. Since then, she has been writing about political issues, winning awards for her commitment in social campaigns and advocacy of non-violence.

Plot: It is a story about the childhood experiences of a pair of twins, Rahel and Estha, who become victims of circumstance. The book is a description of how the small things in life build up, translate into people's behavior and affect their lives. The inseparable twins live in Ayemenem, Kerala, with their divorced mother Ammu, their grandmother Mammachi, their uncle Chacko and grand-aunt Baby Kochamma. The story moves back and forth over time as it builds up a picture of the incidents that decimated the household.

Some thoughts: Finally a good book I enjoyed from the beginning to the end! I know, I know… I’m starting to be more and more picky.
Roy’s style has been called ‘lush’, ‘colourful’ and ‘exotic’, but it’s not annoyingly exotic: the characters are not extraordinarily beautiful or mysterious, and the setting not particularly lush. This is exactly what makes the book so beautiful.
This novel appeals to the Western reader because it is not about an ordinary Indian family, but about a family of outsiders. The Mols are a wealthy, anglophile, Syrian Christian family living in Kerala, Southern India. By the way, outsiders in Indian literature seem to appeal to critics and readers alike (novels by Anita Desai and Salman Rushdie often feature outsiders). The only Indian writers the western readers know write in English, so they are most likely outsiders in their country. I liked the fact that this novel is not about the Indian diaspora, like many other recent Indian novels written in English. The God of Small Things is in fact set in India, with Indian characters. As far as I know, the problem of the Indian caste system is usually not addressed in the novels by Lahiri, Desai or even Rushdie, but it is one of the main themes in Roy’s book.
The novel begins as a mystery story: why did Estha stop talking? What happened to Sophie Mol? Why did Ammu die alone in a hotel room? This keeps it alive until the end, when you get to know what happened to this family.
Roy’s use of English is peculiar, almost a new language, with Asian Indian influences and nice puns. The adults - especially uncle Chacko who has lived in England - constantly correct the children and yet only Rahel and Estha can play with the English language (‘she told her to stoppit, so she stoppited’, loved it!).

No comments:

Post a Comment