Review: The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

April 9, 2013

Author: Arundhati Roy
Publisher: IndiaInk
Year: 1997
ISBN: 9780812979657
Rating: ★★★★★
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The God of Small Things is a clever book, but what makes it exceptional is that it is both beautiful and crafty, a rare combination. This book has structure. Lots of it. She creates a language of her own, a lucid language that complements the wistful mood of the book beautifully. The plot moves around in space and time with masterful ease and one can't help but experience a vague sense of foreboding, a prickly fear in the back of your neck.

From what could have been just another tragic incident, Arundhati Roy weaves a poignant story about the loss of innocence and the far-reaching devastation caused in the aftermath of one tragic event. She examines every character with genuine warmth, their motivations, insecurities and most importantly, their unfulfilled dreams, the definitive universal human tragedy.

The story is revealed in bits and pieces. Like a loving mother with only one piece of pie, she withholds information and doles it out at the most opportune moments, yet never does the plot become incomprehensible. In fact, we lap it all up and can't wait for the next serving. To even attempt to summarize the plot would be to take everything away from it because, well, surprise(!), the book really is about the Small Things. And the Really Big Things.

On one level the book is about freespirited Ammu, our very own Madame Bovary. It's about Rahel and Estha, Ammu's twin children, their innocent childhood infringements and the soarings and stiflings of their little hearts, their complex entwined lives which are governed by the Love Laws, that lay down who should be loved. And how. And how much. And how long.

On another level, it's about the idea of men being social constructs. About our lives not really being in our hands. About our lives really being governed by the forces of the invisible big bad things, a sadistic child holding a horshoe magnet to the disparate iron filings of our small, insiginificant lives. In short, a History lesson. A lesson in Indian caste dynamics and the communist movement of Kerala. About how the Really Big Things often seep into the Small Things, like tea from a teabag.

What hurts the most is not the intensity of the characters' suffering, but the fact that it is extremely commonplace, their suffering, like labour pains, like the food chain. An Indian food chain tragedy, based on caste and other offerings History left behind in its wake. It demonstrates how all caste-based violence is ecological, based on fear, the strange fear the powerful have for the powerless. Us and them.

At the end of it, what I got from the book (I think) was that though the Really Big Things might be screwed up, most of the times the Small Things more than make up for it. Really.



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