This spring, I finally read The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. I say “finally” because it was a book I had wanted to read for years. I’m not sure why. I kept seeing it in bookstores, never buying it but always thinking, “I must read that book someday.” I gave it to my mom for Christmas one year. And finally this spring someday came around when she passed it back to me saying, “Have you read this one?” My mom was the source of my early love of literature, and now she is often the source of my books.
However you come upon it, The God of Small Things cannot fail to leave a mark. This is not a book that is easily forgotten – the reader becomes part of the story and it imprints iteslf indelibly on the soul. This results from the combined effect of Roy’s poetically evocative writing and the events that unfold as the reader learns the gut-wrenching horror that is the consequence of crossing caste boundaries. Or, as the narrator explains, of violating the “Love Laws”: “The laws that lay down who should be loved, and how. And how much (33).”
Although narrated by an external, all-knowing voice, much of the story is told through the eyes of the young twins, Estha and Rahel, age 7 (for most of the story). Roy captures the child’s voice and playful imaginativeness in a way that encourages the reader to see as a child again. For example, the bat that Rahel sees:
‘During the funeral service, Rahel watched a small black bat climb up Baby Kochamma’s expensive funeral sari with gently clinging curled claws. When it reached the place between her sari and her blouse, her roll of sadness, her bare midrriff, Baby Kochamma screamed and hit the air with her hymbook. The singing stopped for a “Whatisit? Whathappened?” and for a Furrywhirring and a Sariflapping (8).’
The narrative is not linear, but jumps back and forth in time between the critical events of a two-week long Christmas vacation and a monsoon season 24 years later when the twins are reunited in their hometown of Ayemenem. In order to appreciate its full beauty, the book must be read twice: once to learn the story and develop a love for the characters, and a second time to understand the delicate forshadowing interlaced through the early parts of the story that preceedes the revelation of the final tragedies.
The book is essentially an exposé of Indian politics during the late 1960s when communism was a growing lion cub, with big promises and a healthy appetite, but always second to the ruling power of the Love Laws. Far from being dryly political though, Roy’s writing is deeply personal to the characters of the story. She starts the story by saying that “In a purely practical sense it would probably be correct to say that it all began when Sophie Mol came to Ayemenem.” She then explains that it all began much earlier, when the Love Laws were laid down. She describes the political background concisely and introduces her story: “however for practical reasons, in a hopelessly practical world… (34).” The characters make the politics real, meaningful, and rightfully terrifying to the reader.
This is a heart-rending story of love procured at the cost of everything, of a child’s desperate attempt to be a child in a world that doesn’t make allowances for innocence, of a man who tries to live his dreams in spite of his caste, and of the devastating consequences. Brilliantly crafted and skillfully written, this is not a book to miss.
For more information on Arundhati Roy and her other work, check out http://www.weroy.org/arundhati_books.shtml