The God of Small Things is an award-winning novel by Arundhati Roy. The story is set in Ayemenem, India, and moves back and forth between 1969 and 1993.
Defining what the book is about would be a disgrace. It is an intricately woven tale of nothing specific and everything at once. It contains the raw flavour of rural India, and the life-like depictions of people, situations and surroundings.
This is what keeps the reader hooked all through. The story revolves around Estha and Rahel – fraternal twins, and their struggles with life. The story takes into account the social, political and economic aspects of the characters’ lives. And creates a carefully balanced equilibrium that is the essence of the book.
The twins live with their mother, ‘Ammu,’ grandmother, ‘Ammachi,’ Uncle ‘Chako’ and maternal grandaunt, who goes by the name ‘Baby kochamma.’
The characters have their own lives and struggles. Like, struggles with society, with each other and with themselves. Each character brings in a different kind of hustle for the characters.
There are political aspirations and the misjudgments of youth. Also, there is patriarchal oppression and longings of unattainable love. The characters go through their journeys while creating impacts on other’s lives.
And, between all these characters, there is a unique character, Velutha. The man who should have got love, and have lived it. Also, he is a man who unknowingly becomes the scapegoat for the society and the unfortunate victim of the cruel ways of life.
Table of Contents
Introduction to the Author: Arundhati Roy
Arundhati Roy (Suzanna Arundhati Roy) is an Indian author, actress, and political activist. She is well-known for her novel “The God of Small Things”.
The author was born on November 24, 1961, in Shillong, Meghalaya. Her father was a Bengali tea estate owner and her mother was Christian of Syrian descent.
She received training in Architecture, but her heart always aimed for a career in writing. Her boat set sail in 1989 with “In Which Annie Gives It to Those Ones”, a film she co-wrote and starred.
Roy had also tried her hands as an acrobat instructor, artist and did a few odd jobs. She later wrote the scripts for several television dramas. One of her more known works includes writing the script for the film Electric Moon (1992).
While this brought her both glory and a loyal following, things turned wobbly soon. She wrote newspaper articles about the Bandit Queen. The materials later are known to the people and used in the film “Phoolan Devi.”
Phoolan Devi was a wanted criminal at that time and deemed to be the heroine for the oppressed. With controversy lurking around, she withdrew from the public. Later, she began writing the novel that became her claim to global fame.
With her semi-autobiographical debut, “The God of Small Things,” Roy won the hearts of the audiences and critics. The book was so successful that it brought the 1998 Man Booker Prize for Fiction.
She is politically active and vocal about her views drawing frequent criticism. Her views caught attention from Indian legal authorities and a large section of the masses.
Her political and environmental activism and statements have created controversies, and the buzz never seems to die down.
Previous books of Arundhati Roy:
- Power Politics (2001)
- The Algebra of Infinite Justice (2002)
- War Talk (2003)
- Public Power in the Age of Empire (2004),
- Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers (2009)
- Capitalism: A Ghost Story (2014)
- The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (2017)
The God of Small Things Book Review
The God of Small Things is a semi-autobiographical novel. The story draws heavily from the real lives of real people. Every page of the book has elaborate, almost poetic narratives and descriptions.
There is an innocent rambling sort of a feel to The God of Small Things. The book seems to be written in one sitting. The author began writing and then as and when the need arose, introduced backstories.
And so, distractions become a norm. This ensures that the stage has enough space for all characters to unfold. There is no overlapping, but it also means an elaborate mess.
The reader is too engrossed in political viewpoints at one moment. And, the very next moment, things turn towards child sexual abuse and a mother’s love. Things seem groggy at multiple points in the story.
It gets tough keeping track of everything that is happening. There are several call-backs and you need to pay attention to to understand the story more previesly. Unlike the racy reads of modern times, The God of Small Things is a book of leisure and concentration.
As much as the efforts writer has invested in it, the readers need to put in the same level of effort. You may feel like the story is sometimes stretching, but once you have read it, it will forever be in your hearts.
You will find yourself drawing conclusions from what the book said and quoting it often. The story will always keep impacting your life, living at the back of your mind.
The Characters of The God of Small Things.
Almost all the characters in the novel are showcased with careful consideration. They have depths and graphs of growth and change.
Estha and Rahel (the characters) have seen too much in life too soon. Unfortunate events effects the kids’ lives. Estha is sexually abused in Abhilash talkies. Rahel learns that her mother loves her a little less after something that she shouldn’t have said.
At the tender age of seven, they have seen their mother struggle alone. They have experienced the death of a cousin, and caste-based police brutality. They have had to choose between their mother and an innocent man whom they adored. Their struggles have had life-altering impacts on them.
Ammu has always been on the receiving end of the hardships in life too. The society binds her and takes away from her, her only anchor, forcing her to die alone in a hotel room. Ammachi is somehow both the victim and a perpetrator of male chauvinism.
Chako is a character with mediocre struggles. Even the loss of his daughter doesn’t bring him to the center of the scheme of things. He is the apt representation of the Man of the House like the man in most Indian households. His life isn’t ever in the limelight, even with so much going on.
And then, there is Baby Kochamma. Her stone-cold heart that aches with the pain of losing a love that was never her to own and yet hers!
As regarding Velutha, the character isn’t properly developed. He is just a representation of his lower caste, his history, and his position in society. All his talents, skills and qualities seem to a gift given to him just as a social lesson!
The Story of The God of Small Things
The story begins with an elaborate description of an old house in Ayemenem. This house becomes the stage for several subplots during the novel. The story starts with Rahel returning to the said house at the age of 31.
Estha’s return to Ayemenem is what has brought Rahel back. And, the visit to her childhood home brings back a lot of memories from the past. There is a constant swing of narrative from present to the past and back to where things are.
Sophie Mol, her welcome, untimely and unfortunate death are the core reasons why many lives take twisted turns. It changes many lives – Estha’s, Rahel’s Velutha’s and Ammu’s.
This twist lands the characters in places that they are at now. The story touches on several subplots. The explanation of the journeys of the characters in graphic detail. Ammachi and Pappachi’s abusive relation veiled in patriarchy.
Chako and his ‘manly needs’ and a half-love story with Margaret Kochamma. Estha’s sexual abused at a young age and her growing quietness is something that is unbearable to her.
Baby Kochamma’s unrequited love story, and Rahel’s life gone astray are all interwoven in one tale. Sprinkled upon all this is a Marxist flavor. Also, the socio-political norms that dictate the course of the characters’ lives.
The non-linear and parallel narrative might be tough for some people to focus on or follow. But the gripping language covers up for multiple storylines entwined with each other. It is like the lines of destiny on one’s hands.
The God of Small Things is Roy’s is the first novel of Arundhati Roy. Her talent is raw and writing style is different from her contemporaries. The story isn’t written to tell you a single story. But, tt is to tell you the tales of times and people.
Some characters in the story die suddenly. Their feelings emerge and subside at random moments. From start to end, there is a child-like innocence in her writing style. It manifests itself in the plot being too twisted.
As soon as Roy starts to depict the backstory in a character’s life, the focus shifts entirely to them. The divergence is sudden. For a moment between some lengthy paragraphs force the reader to think whose story exactly it is. It is the most beautiful part about The God of Small Things.
The non-linear narrative is not about the big things. It is about the smallest of things. The author takes into account the perspectives of even the smallest characters. Each and every character has an entirely different perspective and a contrasting journey.
The only downside is that at some moments the tale get so twisted that you lose a sense of understanding. The details fascinated and fuelled imagination in the beginning.
Later, they seem to become a waste of time. You are waiting for answers to some questions, and a plot twists sometime blow you off the reading flow.
Here, the description seems unwanted. You find yourself skipping through the lines. You ignore the descriptions and look for answers, instead. A crisp editing would have taken care of these lags!
The Best Bits
The God of Small Things is no doubt a book that is a timeless piece of fiction. The best bits of this literary masterpiece are in two parts:
When we read a novel, more often than not, it is about one or two main characters. Their lives, their journeys, their struggles and their outcomes. While it may seem like the novel is about Rahel and Estha alone, it is not so.
At some point, the story seems to be about Ammu, at other times, it is about Velutha. All through the novel, you constantly keep feeling that maybe Baby Kochamma is the focal character of this messed up tale.
And in all these little moments, you realise, almost like an epiphany of your own, that is how life is. In your life, some people and their lives may seem trivial. But, they have a life of their own, where they are at the centre of everything.
The Closeness to Reality
So, no one goes about imagining things in poetic verses. And yet, nothing seems out of place. The descriptions of the things, the situations and people, are all close to reality.
The comparisons, the lavish descriptions, the thoughts, the feelings, the internal conflicts and every word written in the novel is real. You will never feel like it is something that happens in fiction only. The story might not have anything in common with your
life. But, you for sure know that it happens in real life to real people.
What Could Have Been Better
Velutha is a lower caste Hindu. A card holding member of the Communist party. He is a man gifted with many talents and an illegitimate relation (according to society norms) with a high caste woman. He gets beaten to death by the police and denied justice. His caste is the only reason why he is ‘guilty’ even without trial or even questioning.
And, that is all that we know about him. Yes, also that his smile is the only thing that he has brought with himself to his manhood from his boyhood. That is pretty much all.
Everything else, practically every other sentence about him, could have been about anyone else also. The deliberate attempt to make him stand out is what pushes him towards being just any other lower caste man. Velutha’s story is the only one that seems to have not been told!
Also, the fluctuating narrative sometimes seems to be too confusing. It breaks the flow of the reader. You are trying to feel a character’s emotion.
And suddenly, you land in a different time altogether. Before you can build solidarity with any one character, the narrative shifts. The bond that could have been formed, gets abruptly snapped.
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The God of Small Things Quotes
“And the air was full of Thoughts and Things to Say. But at times like these, only the Small Things are ever said. Big Things lurk unsaid inside.”
“This was the trouble with families. Like invidious doctors, they knew just where it hurt.”
“If you’re happy in a dream, does that count?”
“Change is one thing. Acceptance is another.”
“The way her body existed only where he touched her. The rest of her was smoke.”
“Some things come with their own punishments.”
“It is curious how sometimes the memory of death lives on for so much longer than the memory of the life that is purloined.”
“It was a time when the unthinkable became the thinkable and the impossible really happened”
Little events, ordinary things, smashed and reconstituted. Suddenly, they become the bleached bones of a story.”