Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (1997)

My friend Joy sent me this book for my birthday and I loved it. The author took me into what felt like an alternate reality, a completely different way of looking at and being in the world. I was so mesmerized by it that I was sorry when the book ended, and I almost want to read it again, now that I have the entire puzzle of the story put together.

The story alternates between the past (1969) and present day of a family in Ayemenem, India. The family has a rich and complicated history that the author presents in a tapestry of imagery, sounds, smells, tastes, and feelings. The story centers around Estha and Rahel, boy and girl set of twins who are 7 years old in 1969 and live with their mother, Ammu, in the extended family’s home next to their grandmother’s pickle factory. Their uncle Chacko is expecting a visit from his ex-wife and daughter, Sophie Mol, from England, so the whole family drives to Cochin, the city where the flight will arrive.

Sophie and her mother arrive and are taken back to the family home where a few days later a tragedy will occur that will forever change the lives of Estah, Rahel and their mother. The entire novel builds up to this event little by little but in the very first pages of the first chapter, the reader is told that Sophie Mol dies, because we are immediately transported to her funeral.

So we know what is going to happen, but we don’t yet know why or how. And by alternating between those fateful days in 1969 and Rahel and Estah’s adult lives, we see the terrible things that happened to them, their mother, and the young untouchable man who became their friend, while at the same time we are privy to how those events affected them in their adult lives. I was impressed by how the author accomplished this back and forth motion between the two time zones in her novel, and still managed to keep the reader glued to the page.

Politics, history, human rights, child abuse, incest, the caste system, religion, racism, … the book touches on so many things and through so many beautifully drawn characters. And the idea of the God of Small Things appealed to me very much.

As Estha and Rahel discover:

1. Anything can happen to Anyone, and
2. It’s best to be prepared.

How true and how sad that they had to learn such an adult lesson so early on. Another lesson Rahel learns after saying something thoughtless and ugly to her mother that struck me as tragic but achingly true: “When you hurt people, they begin to love you less. That’s what careless words do. They make people love you a little less.”

With so many sad things happening around them and to them, ultimately Estha and Rahel have to grow up quickly. This book deservedly won the Booker Prize and it is one I will read again. Thanks, Joy!


Kathy said...

My old book club read this one several years ago. I wish I remembered it better! It may be time for a re-read . . .

Charley said...

Did you cry while reading this book? I wept for a long time.

Jo said...

I remeber loving this and I remember crying when I read this too. But I can't remember much else about it. I think you may have made a re-read inevitable.