The God of Small Things is the debut novel of Indian writer Arundhati Roy. It is a story about the childhood experiences of fraternal twins whose lives are destroyed by the "Love Laws" that lay down "who should be loved, and how....
The God of Small Things is the debut novel of Indian writer Arundhati Roy. It is a story about the childhood experiences of fraternal twins whose lives are destroyed by the "Love Laws" that lay down "who should be loved, and how. And how much." The book explores how the small things affect people's behavior and their lives. It won the Booker Prize in 1997.
Suzanna Arundhati Roy (born 24 November 1961) is an Indian author best known for her novel The God of Small Things (1997), which won the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 1997 and became the biggest-selling book by a non-expatriate Indian author. She is also a political activist involved in human rights and environmental causes.
Roy was awarded the 1997 Booker Prize for her novel The God of Small Things. The award carried a prize of approximately US$30,000 and a citation that noted, "The book keeps all the promises that it makes". Roy donated the prize money she received, as well as royalties from her book, to human rights causes. Prior to the Booker, Roy won the National Film Award for Best Screenplay in 1989, for the screenplay of In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones, in which she captured the anguish among the students prevailing in professional institutions.In 2015, she returned the national award in protest against religious intolerance and the growing violence by rightwing groups in India.
In 2002, she won the Lannan Foundation's Cultural Freedom Award for her work "about civil societies that are adversely affected by the world's most powerful governments and corporations", in order "to celebrate her life and her ongoing work in the struggle for freedom, justice and cultural diversity".
In 2003, she was awarded "special recognition" as a Woman of Peace at the Global Exchange Human Rights Awards in San Francisco with Bianca Jagger, Barbara Lee, and Kathy Kelly.
Roy was awarded the Sydney Peace Prize in May 2004 for her work in social campaigns and her advocacy of non-violence.
In January 2006, she was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award, a national award from India's Academy of Letters, for her collection of essays on contemporary issues, The Algebra of Infinite Justice, but she declined to accept it "in protest against the Indian Government toeing the US line by 'violently and ruthlessly pursuing policies of brutalisation of industrial workers, increasing militarisation and economic neo-liberalisation'".
In November 2011, she was awarded the Norman Mailer Prize for Distinguished Writing.
Roy was featured in the 2014 list of Time 100, the 100 most influential people in the world.
The God of Small Things was Roy's first book and only novel until the 2017 publication of The Ministry of Utmost Happiness twenty years later. She began writing the manuscript for The God of Small Things in 1992 and finished four years later, in 1996. It was published the following year. The potential of the story was first recognized by Pankaj Mishra, an editor with HarperCollins, who sent it to three British publishers. Roy received £500,000 in advance and rights to the book were sold in 21 countries.
In 2013, Talkhiyaan, a Pakistani television series based on the novel, was aired on Express Entertainment.
By ALICE TRUAX
There is no single tragedy at the heart of Arundhati Roy's devastating first novel. Although ''The God of Small Things'' opens with memories of a family grieving around a drowned child's coffin, there are plenty of other intimate horrors still to come, and they compete for the reader's sympathy with the furious energy of cats in a sack. Yet 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 to its agonizing finish.
This ambitious meditation on the decline and fall of an Indian family is part political fable, part psychological drama, part fairy tale, and it begins at its chronological end, in a landscape of extravagant ruin. When 31-year-old Rahel Kochamma returns to Ayemenem House, her former home in the south Indian state of Kerala, its elegant windows are coated with filth and its brass doorknobs dulled with grease; dead insects lie in the bottom of its empty vases. The only animated presence in the house seems to be great-aunt Baby Kochamma's new television set -- in front of which she and her servant sit day after day, munching peanuts.
Rahel has come back to Ayemenem not to see her great-aunt, however, but because she has heard that her twin brother, Estha, has unexpectedly returned. Estha and Rahel were once inseparable, but now they have been apart for almost 25 years -- ever since the winter of 1969, when their English cousin, Sophie Mol, drowned in the river with their grandmother's silver thimble in her fist.
''Perhaps it's true that things can change in a day,'' Ms. Roy's narrator muses. ''That a few dozen hours can affect the outcome of whole lifetimes. And that when they do, those few dozen hours, like the salvaged remains of a burned house -- the charred clock, the singed photograph, the scorched furniture -- must be resurrected from the ruins and examined. Preserved. Accounted for.'' And this is precisely Ms. Roy's undertaking as, throughout her book, she shuttles between the twins' past and present, continually angling in, crabwise, toward the night of Sophie Mol's death.
Unlike most first novels, ''The God of Small Things'' is an anti-Bildungsroman, for Estha and Rahel have never properly grown up. Whatever the nature of their crimes, it is almost immediately apparent that they have never recovered from their punishments, and present-day Ayemenem -- with its toxic river fish and its breezes stinking of sewage -- seems to reflect their poisoned and blighted lives. The Ayemenem of the twins' aborted childhood, however, is a rich confusion of competing influences. Bearded Syrian priests swing their censers while kathakali dancers perform at the temple nearby; the Communists are splintering, the Untouchables are becoming politicized and ''The Sound of Music'' is wildly popular. Life has an edgy, unpredictable feel.
The twins are only 7 years old in 1969, and -- affectionate, contentious, indefatigable -- they still live almost entirely in a world of their own making. They are at Ayemenem House because their proud and beautiful mother, Ammu, made the unforgivable mistake of marrying badly: when her husband began hitting the children as well as her, she returned, unwelcome, to her parents' home.
Ammu's status within the family is tenuous because of her marital disgrace, but a certain aura of eccentricity and defeat clings like a smell to all the residents of Ayemenem House, rendering them alternately comic, sympathetic and grotesque. There is the twins' elegant grandmother, Mammachi, with her skull permanently scarred from her dead husband's beatings and her bottle of Dior perfume carefully locked up in the safe. Then there is scheming Baby Kochamma, who once tried to become a nun but -- her faith inspired less by God than by a certain Father Mulligan -- lasted only a year in the convent. And there is the house servant, Kochu Maria, who thinks that Rahel is ridiculing her when she announces that Neil Armstrong has walked on the moon.
Finally, there is the twins' charming uncle, Chacko, the Oxford-educated Marxist who has returned from his failed marriage in England and taken over Mammachi's chutney business -- which, with cheerful ineptitude, he is running into the ground. Comrade Chacko means to organize a trade union for his workers, but he never quite gets around to it; instead he philosophizes, flirts with his female employees and assembles tiny balsa airplanes that immediately plummet to the ground. Chacko commends his ex-wife, Margaret, for leaving him, but he pines for her and their little daughter, Sophie Mol, just the same.
It gradually becomes clear to the reader that only Velutha, an Untouchable who serves as the family carpenter, is competent enough to transform life rather than simply endure it -- but, of course, as he's an Untouchable, endurance is supposed to be all he's good for. Velutha fixes everything around Ayemenem House, from the factory's canning machine to the cherub fountain in Baby Kochamma's garden. He is both essential and taken for granted in the twins' existence, like breathing. He is ''the God of Small Things.''
Estha and Rahel are accustomed to life under the umbrella of their elders' discontent; it is only after Chacko invites Margaret and Sophie Mol to come to India for Christmas that the twins gain a fresh appreciation for their second-class status. Baby Kochamma makes Estha and Rahel memorize a hymn and fines them whenever they speak in Malayalam instead of English. Kochu Maria bakes a great cake; Mammachi plays the violin and allows Sophie Mol to make off with her thimble. When Chacko angrily refers to the children as millstones around his neck, Rahel understands that her light-skinned cousin, on the other hand, has been ''loved from the beginning.''
In the following weeks, the smoldering longings and resentments at Ayemenem House will be ignited by larger historical pressures -- the heady promises of Communism, the pieties of Christianity, the rigidities of India's caste system -- and combust with catastrophic results. And if the events surrounding the night of Sophie Mol's death form an intricate tale of crime and punishment, Ms. Roy's elaborate and circuitous reconstruction of those events is both a treasure hunt (for the story itself) and a court of appeals (perhaps all the witnesses were not heard; perhaps all the evidence was not considered).
Are the twins responsible for Sophie Mol's death? Why is Baby Kochamma so terrified of the Communists? What happened to Velutha at the police station? Why does jolly Chacko batter down the door to Ammu's room, threatening to break every bone in her body?
What sustains us through this dread-filled dance between the calamitous past and the bleak present is the exuberant, almost acrobatic nature of the writing itself. Ms. Roy refuses to allow the reader to view the proceedings from any single vantage point: time and again, she lures us toward some glib judgment only to twist away at the last minute, thereby exposing our moral laziness and shaming us with it. But Ms. Roy's shape-shifting narrative is also tremendously nourishing, crammed not only with remonstrances but also with inside jokes, metaphors, rogue capital letters, nonsense rhymes and unexpected elaborations. Even as the Kochamma family seems to be withering before our eyes, the story of the family is flourishing, becoming ever more nuanced and intricate.
Very early on in ''The God of Small Things,'' the grown-up Estha is caring for an ancient dog when he glimpses the shadow of a bird in flight moving across the dying animal's skin: ''To Estha -- steeped in the smell of old roses, blooded on memories of a broken man -- the fact that something so fragile, so unbearably tender had survived, had been allowed to exist, was a miracle.'' The end of this novel also describes a brief interlude of intense happiness, and it evokes in the reader a similar feeling of gratitude and wonderment: it's as if we had suddenly stumbled upon something small and sparkling in all this wreckage. By now we know what horrors await these characters, but we have also learned, like Estha, to take what we can get. And so we hold on to this vision of happiness, this precious scrap of plunder, even as the novel's waters close over our heads.
Alice Truax is a book review editor at The New Yorker.
For the most part, the sex in the novel is pretty PG-13.
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