The God of Small Things

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The God of Small Things
First edition
AuthorArundhati Roy
Cover artistSanjeev Saith
CountryIndia
LanguageEnglish
GenreNovel
PublisherRandom House (USA)
Random House of Canada (Canada)
HarperCollins (UK)
RST IndiaInk & Penguin Books (India)
Publication date
15/03/ 1997
Media typePrint (hardback & paperback)
AwardsBooker Prize (1997)
ISBN0-06-097749-3
OCLC37864514
Followed byThe Ministry of Utmost Happiness (2017) 
Arundhati Roy

The God of Small Things is a family drama novel written by Indian writer Arundhati Roy. It is a story about the childhood experiences of fraternal twins whose lives are destroyed by the "Love Laws" prevalent in 1960s Kerala, India. The novel explores how small, seemingly insignificant occurrences, decisions and experiences shape people's behavior in deeply significant ways. The novel also explores the lingering effects of casteism in India, lending a culturally-specific critique of British colonialism in India. It won the Booker Prize in 1997.

The God of Small Things was Roy's debut novel, published in 1997. It was followed by the 2017 publication, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness twenty years later. Roy began writing the manuscript for The God of Small Things in 1992 and finished four years later, in 1996, leading to its publication the following year. The potential of the story was first recognized by HarperCollins editor, Pankaj Mishra, who sent it to three British publishers. Roy received a £500,000 advance, and rights to the book were sold in 21 countries.

Plot[edit]

The story is set in Ayemenem, Kerala, with a disjointed narrative shifting between 1969 and 1993. Rahel and Estha, fraternal twins, reunite in 1993. Ammu Ipe, their mother, marries Baba to escape her father and returns to Ayemenem after leaving her abusive husband. Chacko, Ammu's brother, returns from England after his divorce. The family home includes Baby Kochamma, Pappachi's sister, who remained unmarried due to unrequited love. She manipulates events to cause misfortune.

The death of Margaret's second husband in a car accident prompts Chacko to invite her and their daughter, Sophie, to spend Christmas in Ayemenem. On the road to the airport, the family encounters a group of Communist protesters who surround the car and humiliate Baby Kochamma. Rahel thinks she sees amongst the protesters Velutha, an Untouchable servant who works for the family's pickle factory. Later at the theater, Estha is sexually molested by the "Orangedrink Lemondrink Man", a vendor working at the snack counter. Rahel's claim of seeing Velutha in the Communist mob leads Baby Kochamma to associate him with her humiliation. Rahel and Estha develop a bond with Velutha, while Ammu is drawn to him, sparking a forbidden romance. Velutha is depicted as sympathetic but faces tragedy due to his caste and relationship with Ammu. When Velutha's father exposes their affair, Ammu is locked up, and Velutha is banished. Ammu blames the twins for her plight, leading them to flee with their cousin Sophie. Their boat capsizes and Sophie drowns, Margaret and Chacko return to find Sophie dead on the sofa.

It didn't matter that the story had begun, because Kathakali discovered long ago that the secret of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets. The Great Stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don't deceive you with thrills and trick endings.

— The God of Small Things

Baby Kochamma accuses Velutha of Sophie's death, leading to his brutal beating and arrest by the police. The twins witness this traumatic event. Chief of police aware of Velutha's Communist ties, fears unrest if the wrongful arrest is exposed. He threatens Baby Kochamma for falsely accusing Velutha. To save herself, Baby Kochamma manipulates Estha and Rahel into implicating Velutha in Sophie's murder. Velutha dies from his injuries. Despite Ammu's attempts to tell the truth, Baby Kochamma convinces Chacko that Ammu and the twins are responsible for Sophie's death. Chacko ejects Ammu from the house, separating Estha from her forever. Ammu dies alone in a motel at 31. Rahel moves to America for university but returns to Ayemenem after a tumultuous life. She reunites with Estha, who has lived a solitary, mute existence with Baby Kochamma. Despite their reunion, their lives remain sorrowful. The novel concludes with a reflection on Ammu and Velutha's love affair.

Characters[edit]

  • Estha, Rahel's twin brother, a serious, intelligent, and somewhat nervous child, who experiences trauma leading to his silence, chosen by Baby Kochamma to accuse Velutha, deeply connected to his sister despite separation.
  • Rahel, Estha's younger sister by 18 minutes, a partial narrator characterized as intelligent and impulsive, grappling with social discomfort and treated as lesser than her brother, later becoming something of a drifter, training as an architectural draftsman, and experiencing a failed relationship with an American.
  • Ammu, the twins' strict mother, who marries to escape her alcoholic husband, divorces him due to violence, and has a cataclysmic affair with Velutha, causing her children to fear losing her love.
  • Velutha, smart Paravan caste carpenter at the Ipe family's pickle factory, deeply involved in the local Communist movement, who has a forbidden affair with Ammu and faces brutal punishment, with a paralyzed brother named Kuttapen.
  • Chacko, Estha and Rahel's maternal uncle, who meets Margaret at Oxford, marries her, and has a daughter, Sophie, whose death is pivotal to the story.
  • Baby Kochamma, The twins' maternal great aunt, educated and embittered, harboring unrequited love for an Irish Catholic priest and spite for her niece's children, condemning them to misery.

Techniques[edit]

Roy uses various techniques to represent the children's viewpoints and their innocence. One technique she employs is the capitalization of certain words and phrases to give them significance (for example, "Because Anything Can Happen To Anyone"). The children also restate things that adults say in a phonetic way, separating and recombining words. This echoes the children's way of looking at the world, distinct from the perspective of the grown-ups who surround them. Roy often uses metaphors that feature elements that are more prominent in the lives of children, such as toothpaste, secrets, or portable pianos. They place significance on words and ideas differently from the adults, thereby creating a new way of viewing the world around them. They pick up on certain feelings and ideas that the adults around them either fail or refuse to recognize, and give new significance to things that the adults ignore for their own purposes. The children use and repeat these phrases throughout the story so that the phrases themselves gain independence and representational meanings. Another way she plays with language is to join words together without punctuation, which we see in the description of the 'Orangedrink Lemondrink man' or 'bluegreyblue eyes'. This subversion of the usual rules of syntax and grammar not only places us in a child's view of the world, but it also draws attention to the role of language in colonialism. By corrupting standard use of English (the colonial language of India) Roy is rebelling against colonial influence still present in India, represented by characters such as Margaret Kochamma and Chacko who always speak correctly.

Roy also employs a disjointed, non-sequential narrative style that echoes the process of memory, especially the resurfacing of a previously suppressed, painful memory. The story of three different generations is told simultaneously going back and forth in time.[1]

The uncovering of the story of Sophie's death, concurrently with the forward-moving story of Rahel's return to Ayemenem and reunion with Estha, creates a complex narrative that emphasizes the difficulty of the subject of the story and the complexity of the culture from which the story originates. Time is rendered somewhat static as parts of one narrative line are intertwined through repetition and non-sequential discovery. This is also part of the way Roy uses real-life places and people that she has shifted and altered for use in the story. The story's many elements come together to construct a diverse look at one instance of Indian culture and the effect of the caste system on life and love during a time of post-colonialism. As the children try to form their own identities, naming and renaming themselves in the process, Roy places in parallel the effect of the process by intertwining the past and the present.

This process also echoes the progression of the Indian people, like that of all cultures that try to find ways to maintain their traditions in a time of increasing globalization.

Possible autobiographical elements[edit]

The God of Small Things is a work of fiction but some critics have tried to find autobiographical parallels in the novel, while at the same, warning against drawing any simplistic connections between the novel and the writer's life.[2] Some of the similarities between Roy's life and that of the characters she creates include her own Syrian Christian and Hindu lineage; the divorce of her parents when she and her brother were very young; her return to the family home in Ayemenem after her mother's divorce; and her education in an architectural school, to name a few.[2] Some critics also attribute the political awareness manifested in The God of Small Things to Roy's early life-influences from her mother, who was an activist and feminist.[2]

Reception[edit]

The God of Small Things received stellar reviews in major American newspapers such as The New York Times (a "dazzling first novel",[3] "extraordinary", "at once so morally strenuous and so imaginatively supple"[4]) and the Los Angeles Times ("a novel of poignancy and considerable sweep"[5]), and in Canadian publications such as the Toronto Star ("a lush, magical novel"[6]). Time named it one of the best books of the year.[7] Critical response in the United Kingdom was less positive, and the awarding of the Booker Prize caused controversy; Carmen Callil, a 1996 Booker Prize judge, called the novel "execrable", and The Guardian described the contest as "profoundly depressing".[8] In India, the book was criticised especially for its unrestrained description of sexuality by E. K. Nayanar,[9] then Chief Minister of Roy's home state Kerala, where she had to answer charges of obscenity.[10] The book has since been translated into Malayalam by Priya A. S., under the title Kunju Karyangalude Odeythampuran.[11] [12] Some critics have pointed out that the reader reviews of this book on bookseller websites are so extremely opposed at times that it is difficult to imagine readers are saying this about the same book.[13]

In 2014, the novel was ranked in The Telegraph as one of the 10 all-time greatest Asian novels.[14] On 5 November 2019, the BBC News listed The God of Small Things on its list of the 100 most influential novels.[15] Emma Lee-Potter of The Independent listed it as one of the 12 best Indian novels.[16]

In 2022, the novel was included on the "Big Jubilee Read" list of 70 books by Commonwealth authors, selected to celebrate the Platinum Jubilee of Elizabeth II.[17]

In popular culture[edit]

In 2013, Talkhiyaan, a Pakistani television series based on the novel, was aired on Express Entertainment.

The band Darlingside credits the novel as the inspiration for their song "The God of Loss".[18]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Lipson Freed, Joanne (2011). "The Ethics of Identification:: The Global Circulation of Traumatic Narrative in Silko's Ceremony and Roy's The God of Small Things". Comparative Literature Studies. 48 (2): 219–240. doi:10.5325/complitstudies.48.2.0219. JSTOR 10.5325/complitstudies.48.2.0219. S2CID 146663259.
  2. ^ a b c Tickell, Alex (2007). Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things. London New York: Routledge Taylor and Francis Group. pp. 13. ISBN 978-0-415-35842-2.
  3. ^ Kakutani, Michiko (3 June 1997). "Melodrama as Structure for Subtlety". The New York Times.
  4. ^ Truax, Alice (25 May 1997). "A Silver Thimble in Her Fist". The New York Times.
  5. ^ Eder, Richard (1 June 1997). "As the world turns: rev. of The God of Small Things". Los Angeles Times. p. 2. Retrieved 18 January 2010.
  6. ^ Carey, Barbara (7 June 1997). "A lush, magical novel of India". Toronto Star. p. M.21.
  7. ^ "Books: The best of 1997". Time. 29 December 1997. Archived from the original on 6 March 2008. Retrieved 18 January 2010.
  8. ^ "The scene is set for the Booker battle". BBC News. 24 September 1998. Retrieved 18 January 2010.
  9. ^ Kutty, N. Madhavan (9 November 1997). "Comrade of Small Jokes". The Indian Express. Archived from the original on 5 June 2000. Retrieved 18 January 2010.
  10. ^ Bumiller, Elisabeth (29 July 1997). "A Novelist Beginning with a Bang". The New York Times. Retrieved 18 January 2010.
  11. ^ Basheer, K. P. M. (3 January 2012). "Estha, Rahel now speak Malayalam". The Hindu. Retrieved 20 July 2015.
  12. ^ "BBC toasts Indian literature".
  13. ^ Tickell, Alex (2007). Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things. UK USA Canada: Routledge Taylor and Francis Group. pp. xiii. ISBN 978-0203004593.
  14. ^ "10 best Asian novels of all time". The Telegraph. 22 April 2014. Retrieved 6 December 2020.
  15. ^ "100 'most inspiring' novels revealed by BBC Arts". BBC News. 5 November 2019. Retrieved 10 November 2019. The reveal kickstarts the BBC's year-long celebration of literature.
  16. ^ Lee-Potter, Emma (5 August 2020). "12 best Indian novels that everyone needs to read". The Independent. Archived from the original on 18 June 2022. Retrieved 23 December 2020.
  17. ^ "The Big Jubilee Read: A literary celebration of Queen Elizabeth II's record-breaking reign". BBC. 17 April 2022. Retrieved 15 July 2022.
  18. ^ Boilen, Bob (29 October 2015). "First Watch: Darlingside, 'God of Loss'". npr.org. Retrieved 25 April 2017. The character Velutha is tangled in a web of familial, cultural and romantic loyalties. The lyrics for 'The God of Loss' were inspired by Velutha's attempts to preserve his humanity in the face of those competing forces.
  • Ch'ien, Evelyn. "The Politics of Design: Arundhati Roy". In Weird English. Harvard University Press, 2004.

Further reading[edit]

  • Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things: Critique and Commentary, by R. S. Sharma, Shashi Bala Talwar. Published by Creative Books, 1998. ISBN 81-86318-54-2.
  • Explorations: Arundhati Roy's the God of small things, by Indira Bhatt, Indira Nityanandam. Published by Creative Books, 1999. ISBN 81-86318-56-9.
  • The God of Small Things: A Saga of Lost Dreams, by K. V. Surendran. Published by Atlantic Publishers & Distributors, 2000. ISBN 81-7156-887-4. Excerpts
  • Arundhati Roy's The God of small things: a reader's guide, by Julie Mullaney. Published by Continuum International Publishing Group, 2002. ISBN 0-8264-5327-9.
  • Reading Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things, by Carole Froude-Durix, Jean-Pierre Durix. Published by Editions universitaires de Dijon, 2002. ISBN 2-905965-80-0,.
  • Arundhati Roy's The god of small things: a critical appraisal, by Amar Nath Prasad. Published by Sarup & Sons, 2004. ISBN 81-7625-522-X.
  • Derozio To Dattani: Essays in Criticism, by Sanjukta Das. Published by Worldview Publications, 2009. ISBN 81-86423-19-2
  • The God of Small Things: A Novel of Social Commitment, by Amitabh Roy. Published by Atlantic Publishers & Distributors, 2005. ISBN 81-269-0409-7. Excerpts
  • Arundhati Roy's The god of small things, by Alex Tickell. Published by Routledge, 2007. ISBN 0-415-35843-4. Excerpts
  • Caste and The God of Small Things Emory University.
  • The God of Small Things, Chapter One – Paradise Pickles and Preserves The New York Times

External links[edit]