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The God Of Small Things

May 15, 2016

GodOfSmallThingsArundhati Roy’s The God Of Small Things is the kind of book that makes you feel like reading is a multi-sensory experience. Roy’s bold, playful, inventive, exhilarating use of language is so thoroughly enveloping that you can practically smell, taste, hear and touch the world she so completely brings to life.

Rahel and Estha are “two-egg” (i.e., fraternal) twins, living in Ayemenem, in the state of Kerala on India’s west coast, with their mother and her family. Something terrible happened in the summer of 1969, when the twins are 7 years old, and they’re separated—Esthahappen sent to live with his alcoholic father outside of Calcutta—until 1993, when Estha returns after their mother’s death.

The narrative switches with dreamy abruptness from one year to the other, and from Rahel’s perspective to others’. Roy luxuriates in the playfulness of language, combining and making up words like e. e. cummings…or like a child of seven.

From the opening pages it’s clear that something horrible will happen. Then, about 1/3 of the way into the story, one of the twins is sexually molested…but that’s not the horrible thing. The foreshadowing continues.

While reading The God Of Small Things, I discussed it with someone who’d already read the book. Her comment after that chapter was, “I’ll be interested to see what you think is the most horrible thing that happens“; because there’s a cascading series of events—each more horrifying and pitilessly inexorable than the last—that results in the twins being separated that summer, and then sets the stage for what happens when they reunite decades later.

Caste, communism, capitalism, post-colonialism, and the forbiddenness of love (or at least, many kinds of it) all swirl in and around the family’s relationships, interjecting themselves in ways surprising and inevitable. The God Of Small Things is a tour de force, the kind of novel that stays with you long after you finish reading.

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