My rating: 5 of 5 stars
"You must read this," I was told time and time again by two of my good friends (whose opinions I value). So I did, and I am grateful.
Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things is powerfully compelling, at once revolving around the hard boundaries of the caste system but also throbbing with a childhood tenderness and delicacy.
It opens in the long, humid and rainy days of May in Ayemenem where we are at once thrown into a chapter (beautifully alliterated: Paradise Pickles and Preservers) brimming with description, with puddles and dampness and soft moss and a "wild, overgrown garden full of the whisper and scurry of small lives."
And such a notion of smallness - of small things changing a lifetime and of small gestures making small imprints on something as vast as love - recurs throughout the novel.
On the back of my copy, John Updike is quoted for having said that "to discuss the plot [of this novel] would be to violate it." And I agree - but just to give you some context...
Rahel and Esthappen are two twins (Rahel - girl, esthappen - boy) who - at the curiosity-driven, innocuous years of childhood - find themselves tied down by an immense history of caste systems and political/social boundaries that weave themselves into their lives. These restraints impact not only them but also their mother, Ammu, and the 'Untouchable' Velutha, the carpenter who works at Paradise Pickles and Preserves.
The twins are fond of Velutha, who is in turn fond of them, and soon Ammu herself develops feelings for Velutha - dangerous feelings forbiden by the Love Laws, "the laws that lay down who should be loved, and how. And how much."
These laws lie at the heart of this novel and because of them the characters find themselves:
"... prisoners of war," Chacko said. "Our dreams have been doctored. We belong nowhere. We sail unanchored on troubled seas. We may never be allowed ashore. Our sorrows will never be sad enough. Our joys never happy enough. Our dreams never big enough. Our lives never important enough. To matter."
Even after finishing this novel I'm not sure if I can put a name to 'The God' of Small Things; I don't even think that is a question the novel asks. Rather what it stressed are the small things and the effects they have on history as a whole, on how Rahel and Estha's lives pan out, on how "things can change in a day" because of small things. Most importantly, about how "history negotiates its terms and collects its dues from those who breaks its laws."
What is most heartbreakin most about Roy's characterization of the twins is how they think of each other as "me," and how "emptiness in one twin was only a version of the quietness in the other"... how Estha grew "accustomed to the uneasy octopus that lived inside him and squirted its inky tranquilizer on his past. "
If you're planning to read the novel, the family tree below shall prove immensely helpful, too bad I only found out about it 5 minutes ago:
Lengthy and even arguably verbose, The God of Small Things does not unfold chronologically and thus its plot is not so easily grasped; however, Roy reiterates key sentences throughout the novel:
The God of loss.
The God of Small Things.
Love. Madness. Hope. Infinite joy.
- which, like color-coded lighthouses on a broad sea, point readers in the right direction. Technically, a large chunk of the whole novel is exposed in the first chapter but at that point one lacks too many of the precious details (Roy does details so well) to register much.
Roy's prose is poetic; she doesn't merely write - she paints, embellishes and illustrates using the most ordinary or exquisite of words. Such elegance, made visual by Roy's crafting, remains constant throughout the novel regardless of what she is describing, be it a beaten man or a yellow church.
Thus thought-provoking as the themes expressed in this novel are, it is ultimately the language - the intrinsic detail, the exquisite metaphors - that carry the plot and tie together all its magic and mystery.
Human beings were creatures of habit, and it was amazing the kind of things they could get used to.
It seemed so absurd. So futile. Like polishing firewood
It is curious how sometimes the memory of death lives on for so much longer than the memory of the life that it purloined..
And we, my dears, everything we are and ever will be are just a twinkle in her eye," Chacko said grandly, lying on his bed, staring at the ceiling.
Then Small God (cozy and contained, private and limited) came away cauterized, laughing numbly at his own temerity. Inured by the confirmation of his own inconsequence, he became resilient and truly indifferent. Nothing mattered much. Nothing much mattered. And the less it mattered, the less it mattered. It was never important enough. Because Worse Things had happened. In the country that she came from, poised forever between the terror of war and the horror of peace, Worse Things kept happening.
So Small God laughed a hollow laugh, and skipped away cheerfully. Like a rich boy in shorts. He whistled, kicked stones. The source of his brittle elation was the relative smallness of his misfortune. He climbed into people’s eyes and became an exasperating expression.”
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