Arundhati Roy’s first book of fiction yet took the literary world by storm, won The Booker Prize in 1997, attracted readers from countries quite unfamiliar with the sands and the smells, the customs and the people of southern India which are its subjects. The God of Small things is indeed a phenomenal, it has got a narrative many layers, although the author believes it to be a utterly natural or rather like a living organism and it has a dazzling style that expresses the texture of life’s rich in the absorption in the small things of the title. Flowers, insects, seeds, all the beautiful object will make up a Life of Kerala which she describes and wish through up.
In the novel an adult women Rahel lives back at a handful of days in 1969 when one of her visiting cousin from England Sophie Mol is killed. The house of the story is the love affair of Rahel’s middle class Christian mother with the untouchable carpenter as well as Rahel’s own relationship. It is really a compelling story of interlocking family lives, lovers, death and loss. It is lyrical, it is sad, it is uplifting.
Grew up in Ayemenem, Arundhati Roy watched the performances of the great epic, the Kathakalli performances, dancing. “I know that the stories you love the most are the stories that you already know”- she said. She didn’t want to write a thriller where everybody is guessing to know what’s going to happen. “Structurally as an architect does start designing a house with the entrance and end would be the exit, there was a layered structured narrative that in itself was a challenge how you would structure something and how would you draw someone into the story that they already know”- she quoted.
She never thinks in a linear way, “Yes I know The God of small things begins with the end, it ends in the middle, the beginning is somewhere in the middle of the story, that’s what challenging to me”.
“It is important to find a joy in saddest places to pursue beauty to its layer. So pessimism and optimism are very binary things but how do you find, what is beautiful, somebody could say that there was tragedy in God of small things that Ammu died, Velutha died because of their love. But to me it has given to me the feudal nature of that society the fact that they loved at all was a hopeful thing”- The Author believes.
If The God of small things has to be described in one word it is complex. It is very emotionally complex novel about family with complicated dynamics set mostly in India in 1969 where there was so much going on politically, culturally, religiously and economically. This novel manages to be moving, engaging and also very heart breaking.
The perspective in many cases feels like that of a child trying to make sense of a very complex world. They leave with their mother Ammu in their family home in which she tried to escape by marrying young and where now she lived with her mother, brother and her aunt. It really is a story of forbidden love and tragedy and reminded me a lot of unbearable lightness of being because it has very complex political setting and what you care about or most of the characters care about all relationships to each other. In this case you don’t really know how to feel about it because it wasn’t a happy family in the first place and these are necessarily great people but there is something very tragic about a family falling apart, especially for the children because they really had no say in and they are made to feel responsible for what happens to their families.
The God of small things pose in a lot of historical facts, they give you a sense of vast world and helps to understand who these characters are and what are they doing and yet it never get bog down in any of that. But it did make me think that there are many levels in which you can read this book. It introduces to certain things happened in India at that time. I talked about this being an emotionally complex novel, the motivation of the characters is so clear and yet they feel so authentic. You understand which character, what she does even when it is cruel and to some degree you also empathize because you know that the character is operating with very limited number of possibilities opened to her. You can see as you do in the real life that people don’t always behave rationally, they act out and some small active rebellion results in something bigger than they could have possibly anticipated and really almost bigger than the nation really be held responsible because the thing that did was just so small. To be clearer, people are certainly responsible for their actions but there are small actions that you can take that have such huge consequences and there is a question of whether you should be held responsible for this huge thing that you couldn’t have anticipated. In this novel, it feels that everything is so organic, so interesting the way all the different stories and their emotions are intertwined just to make the story that feels very honest.
In my opinion, the novel also explores and doesn’t shy away from uncomfortable feelings or taboo subjects not just related to prescribe social order but also including things like molestation, alcoholism and abuse. You may wonder how children process these things and how they make sense of their own experiences and what are being told. One of the central themes of the book is about the love laws which requite about who should be loved, how and how much, this has covered much of the story and its references explicitly in number of times. We see it is not about love which is forbidden by law but it is also a work through much of the family. In describing the main story I realized how often the major themes are repeated in a smaller ways throughout the story between the different characters. There are forbidden loves of many kinds, that makes the issue really complex and we see there are lot of characters who do not receive the kind of love they need. This novel has really interesting structure. It is not a linear novel most of it takes place in 1969 and part of it takes place in 1993 and we can see that the characters in the later part of the narrative are very much affected by what happened in 1969 and kind of haunt them and they think about it regularly and were getting kind of narratives moving not necessarily in the opposite direction but not moving in a linear way. And a certain point we are basically told that the end of the story and then we get to see of how things play out up to that point. What an interesting way to tell this story. There are also a lot of interesting style traces related to language and grammar that were showing that these are children experiencing much of the things.
The modernity of India is infused with the kind of violence of the feudal past which hasn’t gone away at all she believes. The town of Ayemenem, dance, culture, political and economic system and various other things inspired her to write The God of Small things. What inspired you? Share your story with us…