Cover image for The god of small things
Title:
The god of small things
Author:
Roy, Arundhati.
Personal Author:
Edition:
First HarperPerennial edition.
Publication Information:
New York : HarperPerennial, 1998.

©1997
Physical Description:
xii, 321 pages ; 21 cm
General Note:
"Winner of the Booker Prize"--Cover.

"A hardcover edition of this book was published in 1997 by Random House"--T.p. verso.
Language:
English
Reading Level:
840 Lexile.
Program Information:
Reading Counts RC High School 5 22 Quiz: 38777 Guided reading level: NR.
Geographic Term:
ISBN:
9780060977498
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

Set against a background of political turbulence in Kerala, this is the story of twins Esthappen and Rahel who try to craft a childhood for themselves amongst the vats of banana jam and heaps of peppercorns in their grandmother's factory.


Author Notes

Suzanna Arundhati Roy, 1961 - Suzanna Roy was born November 24, 1961. Her parents divorced and she lived with her mother Mary Roy, a social activist, in Aymanam. Her mother ran an informal school named Corpus Christi and it was there Roy developed her intellectual abilities, free from the rules of formal education. At the age of 16, she left home and lived on her own in a squatter's colony in Delhi. She went six years without seeing her mother.

She attended Delhi School of Architecture where she met and married fellow student Gerard Da Cunha. Neither had a great interest in architecture so they quit school and went to Goa. They stayed there for seven months and returned broke. Their marriage lasted only four years. Roy had taken a job at the National Institute of Urban Affairs and, while cycling down a road; film director Pradeep Krishen offered her a small role as a tribal bimbo in Massey Saab. She then received a scholarship to study the restoration of monuments in Italy. During her eight months in Italy, she realized she was a writer. Now married to Krishen, they planned a 26-episode television epic called Banyan Tree. They didn't shoot enough footage for more than four episodes so the serial was scrapped. She wrote the screenplay for the film In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones and Electric Moon.

Her next piece caused controversy. It was an article that criticized Shekar Kapur's film Bandit Queen, which was about Phoolan Devi. She accused Kapur of misrepresenting Devi and it eventually became a court case. Afterwards, finished with film, she concentrated on her writing, which became the novel "A God of Small Things." It is based on what it was like growing up in Kerala. The novel contains mild eroticism and again, controversy found Roy having a public interest petition filed to remove the last chapter because of the description of a sexual act. It took Roy five years to write "A God of Small Things" and was released April 4, 1997 in Delhi. It received the Booker prize in London in 1997 and has topped the best-seller lists around the world. Roy is the first non-expatriate Indian author and the first Indian woman to win the Booker prize.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 4

Booklist Review

It's easier to talk about small things because the big things in life are far too complex and painful. But even small things can loom large, and everything can change, radically, in a day, a moment. These are the sort of big things first-time novelist Roy ponders in this highly original and exquisitely crafted tale set in the tiny river town of Ayemenem in Kerala, India. The story revolves around a pair of twins, brother and sister, whose mother has left her violent husband to live with her blind mother and kind, if ineffectual, brother, Chacko. Chacko's ex-wife, an Englishwoman, has returned to Ayemenem after a long absence, bringing along her and Chacko's lovely young daughter. Their arrival not only unsettles the already tenuous balance of the divisive household, it also coincides with political unrest. The twins and their cousin--each brimming with vernal intelligence, innocent love and longing, curiosity and fear--barely have time to get acquainted before tragedy strikes, first in the form of an accident (caused by carelessness in love), then murder (the result of ancient prejudice). Roy's intricate, enchanting, and often wry tale is positively mythical in its cosmic inevitability, evocative circularity, and paradoxical wisdom. --Donna Seaman


Publisher's Weekly Review

With sensuous prose, a dreamlike style infused with breathtakingly beautiful images and keen insight into human nature, Roy's debut novel charts fresh territory in the genre of magical, prismatic literature. Set in Kerala, India, during the late 1960s when Communism rattled the age-old caste system, the story begins with the funeral of young Sophie Mol, the cousin of the novel's protagonists, Rahel and her fraternal twin brother, Estha. In a circuitous and suspenseful narrative, Roy reveals the family tensions that led to the twins' behavior on the fateful night that Sophie drowned. Beneath the drama of a family tragedy lies a background of local politics, social taboos and the tide of history‘all of which come together in a slip of fate, after which a family is irreparably shattered. Roy captures the children's candid observations but clouded understanding of adults' complex emotional lives. Rahel notices that "at times like these, only the Small Things are ever said. The Big Things lurk unsaid inside." Plangent with a sad wisdom, the children's view is never oversimplified, and the adult characters reveal their frailties‘and in one case, a repulsively evil power‘in subtle and complex ways. While Roy's powers of description are formidable, she sometimes succumbs to overwriting, forcing every minute detail to symbolize something bigger, and the pace of the story slows. But these lapses are few, and her powers coalesce magnificently in the book's second half. Roy's clarity of vision is remarkable, her voice original, her story beautifully constructed and masterfully told. First serial to Granta; foreign rights sold in France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Italy, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Estonia, Holland, India, Greece, Canada and the U.K. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal Review

Roy's remarkable first novel opens during a "hot, brooding" May in India, with fruit ripening and the sunshine glittering sharply. The novel that unfolds is not, however, some lyrical paean to the dreamy, steamy East but rather a piercing study of childhood innocence lost, told in a voice that is witty, irreverent, at times even caustic. Twin sister and brother Rahel and Estha, born with a "single Siamese soul" though they don't look a bit alike, are at the center of a family in crisis, a family where "uncles became fathers, mothers lovers, and cousins died and had funerals." At the funeral for little Sophie Mol that fills the book's first pages, the twins and their mother must stand apart. Why they are forced to do so‘and how their implication in Sophie Mol's death drives them to rebellion and something beyond despair‘"personal despair could never be desperate enough"‘is the import of this moving and compactly written book. Highly recommended.‘Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal" (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Choice Review

Winner of the 1997 Booker Prize, this much-feted novel does not quite live up to its advance publicity but marks an auspicious literary debut nevertheless. Set in south India, the narrative circles around a traumatic event in the life of a particular family in the late 1960s and traces the playing out of the consequences of this event in the years following. Perspective centers on two children--twins (boy and girl) whose codependent universe is torn apart by the developments in question. Reminiscent in some ways of the work of Jamaica Kincaid and in others (almost inevitably) of that of Salman Rushdie, the novel's mannered construction threatens on occasion to overwhelm it, but it is, in the end, redeemed by its compassion, insight, and commitment to its own conception. A flawed novel, perhaps, but a capacious one that possesses at least the courage of its own very creditable convictions. Recommended for all readers. N. F. Lazarus Brown University


Excerpts

Excerpts

Chapter 1 PARADISE PICKLES & PRESERVES   May in Ayemenem is a hot, brooding month. The days are long and humid. The river shrinks and black crows gorge on bright mangoes in still, dustgreen trees. Red bananas ripen. Jackfruits burst. Dissolute bluebottles hum vacuously in the fruity air. Then they stun themselves against clear windowpanes and die, fatly baffled in the sun.   The nights are clear, but suffused with sloth and sullen expectation.   But by early June the southwest monsoon breaks and there are three months of wind and water with short spells of sharp, glittering sunshine that thrilled children snatch to play with. The countryside turns an immodest green. Boundaries blur as tapioca fences take root and bloom. Brick walls turn mossgreen. Pepper vines snake up electric poles. Wild creepers burst through latente banks and spill across the flooded roads. Boats ply in the bazaars. And small fish appear in the puddles that fill the PWD potholes on the highways.   "It was raining when Rahel came back to Ayemenem. Slanting silver ropes slammed into loose earth, plowing it up like gunfire. The old house on the hill wore its steep, gabled roof pulled over its ears like a low hat. The walls, streaked with moss, had grown soft, and bulged a little with dampness that seeped up from the ground. The wild, overgrown garden was full of the whisper and scurry of small lives. In the undergrowth a rat snake rubbed itself against a glistening stone. Hopeful yellow bullfrogs cruised the scummy pond for mates. A drenched mongoose flashed across the leaf strewn driveway.   The house itself looked empty. The doors and windows were locked. The front verandah bare. Unfurnished. But the skyblue Plymouth with chrome tailfins was still parked outside, and inside, Baby Kochamma was still alive.   She was Rahel's baby grandaunt, her grandfather's younger sister. Her name was really Navomi, Navomi Ipe, but everybody called her Baby. She became Baby Kochamma when she was old enough to be an aunt. Rahel hadn't come to see her, though. Neither niece nor baby grandaunt labored under any illusions on that account. Rahel had come to see her brother, Estha. They were two-egg twins. "Dizygotic" doctors called them. Born from separate but simultaneously fertilized eggs. Estha--Esthappen--was the older by eighteen minutes.   "They never did look much like each other, Estha and Rahel, and even when they were thin-armed children, flat-chested, wormridden and Elvis Presley-puffed, there was none of the usual "Who is who?" and "Which is which?" from oversmiling relatives or the Syrian Orthodox bishops who frequently visited the Ayemenem House for donations.   The confusion lay in a deeper, more secret place.   In those early amorphous years when memory had only just begun, when life was full of Beginnings and no Ends, and Everything was Forever, Esthappen and Rahel thought of themselves together as Me, and separately, individually, as We or Us. As though they were a rare breed of Siamese twins, physically separate, but with joint identities.   Now, these years later, Rahel has a memory of waking up one night giggling at Estha's funny dream.   She has other memories too that she has no right to have.   She remembers, for instance (though she hadn't been there), what the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man did to Estha in Abhilash Talkies. She remembers the taste of the tomato sandwiches--Estha's sandwiches, that Estha ate--on the Madras Mail to Madras.   And these are only the small things.     Anyway, now she thinks of Estha and Rahel as Them, because, separately, the two of them are no longer what They were or ever thought They'd be.   Ever.   Their lives have a size and a shape now. Estha has his and Rahel hers.   Edges, Borders, Boundaries, Brinks and Limits have appeared like a team of trolls on their separate horizons. Short creatures with long shadows, patrolling the Blurry End. Gentle half-moons have gathered under their eyes and they are as old as Ammu was when she died. Thirty-one.   Not old.   Not young.   But a viable die-able age.     They were nearly born on a bus, Estha and Rahel. The car in which Babà, their father, was taking Ammu, their mother, to hospital in Shillong to have them, broke down on the winding tea-estate road in Assam. They abandoned the car and flagged down a crowded State Transport bus. With the queer compassion of the very poor for the comparatively well off, or perhaps only because they saw how hugely pregnant Ammu was, seated passengers made room for the couple, and for the rest of the journey Estha and Rahel's father had to hold their mother's stomach (with them in it) to prevent it from wobbling. That was before they were divorced and Ammu came back to live in Kerala.   According to Estha, if they'd been born on the bus, they'd have got free bus rides for the rest of their lives. It wasn't clear where he'd got this information from, or how he knew these things, but for years the twins harbored a faint resentment against their parents for having diddled them out of a lifetime of free bus rides.   They also believed that if they were killed on a zebra crossing, the Government would pay for their funerals. They had the definite impression that that was what zebra crossings were meant for. Free funerals. Of course, there were no zebra crossings to get killed on in Ayemenem, or, for that matter, even in Kottayam, which was the nearest town, but they'd seen some from the car window when they went to Cochin, which was a two-hour drive away.     The Government never paid for Sophie Mol's funeral because she wasn't killed on a zebra crossing. She had hers in Ayemenem in the old church with the new paint. She was Estha and Rahel's cousin, their uncle Chacko's daughter. She was visiting from England. Estha and Rahel were seven years old when she died. Sophie Mol was almost nine. She had a special child-sized coffin.   Satin lined.   Brass handle shined.   She lay in it in her yellow Crimplene bell-bottoms with her hair in a ribbon and her Made-in-England go-go bag that she loved. Her face was pale and as wrinkled as a dhobi's thumb from being in water for too long. The congregation gathered around the coffin, and the yellow church swelled like a throat with the sound of sad singing. The priests with curly beards swung pots of frankincense on chains and never smiled at babies the way they did on usual Sundays. The long candles on the altar were bent. The short ones weren't.   An old lady masquerading as a distant relative (whom nobody recognized, but who often surfaced next to bodies at funerals--a funeral junkie? A latent necrophiliac?) put cologne on a wad of cotton wool and with a devout and gently challenging air, dabbed it on Sophie Mol's forehead. Sophie Mol smelled of cologne and coffin-wood.   Margaret Kochamma, Sophie Mol's English mother, wouldn't let Chacko, Sophie Mol's biological father, put his arm around her to comfort her.   The family stood huddled together. Margaret Kochamma, Chacko, Baby Kochamma, and next to her, her sister-in-law, Mammachi--Estha and Rahel's (and Sophie Mol's) grandmother. Mammachi was almost blind and always wore dark glasses when she went out of the house. Her tears trickled down from behind them and trembled along her jaw like raindrops on the edge of a roof.   She looked small and ill in her crisp off-white sari. Chacko was Mammachi's only son. Her own grief grieved her. His devastated her.   Though Ammu, Estha and Rahel were allowed to attend the funeral, they were made to stand separately, not with the rest of the family. Nobody would look at them.   It was hot in the church, and the white edges of the arum lilies crisped and curled. A bee died in a coffin flower. Ammu's hands shook and her hymnbook with it. Her skin was cold. Estha stood close to her, barely awake, his aching eyes glittering like glass, his burning cheek against the bare skin of Ammu's trembling, hymnbook-holding arm.   Rahel, on the other hand, was wide awake, fiercely vigilant and brittle with exhaustion from her battle against Real Life.   She noticed that Sophie Mol was awake for her funeral. She showed Rahel Two Things.   Thing One was the newly painted high dome of the yellow church that Rahel hadn't ever looked at from the inside. It was painted blue like the sky, with drifting clouds and tiny whizzing jet planes with white trails that crisscrossed in the clouds. It's true (and must be said) that it would have been easier to notice these things lying in a coffin looking up than standing in the pews, hemmed in by sad hips and hymnbooks.   Rahel thought of the someone who had taken the trouble to go up there with cans of paint, white for the clouds, blue for the sky, silver for the jets, and brushes, and thinner. She imagined him up there, someone like Velutha, barebodied and shining, sitting on a plank, swinging from the scaffolding in the high dome of the church, painting silver jets in a blue church sky.   She thought of what would happen if the rope snapped. She imagined him dropping like a dark star out of the sky that he had made. Lying broken on the hot church floor, dark blood spilling from his skull like a secret.   By then Esthappen and Rahel had learned that the world had other ways of breaking men. They were already familiar with the smell. Sicksweet. Like old roses on a breeze.   Thing Two that Sophie Mol showed Rahel was the bat baby.   During the funeral service, Rahel watched a small black bat climb up Baby Kochamma's expensive funeral sari with gently clinging curled claws. When it reached the place between her sari and her blouse, her roll of sadness, her bare midriff, Baby Kochamma screamed and hit the air with her hymnbook. The singing stopped for a "Whatisit? Whathappened?" and for a Furrywhirring and a Sariflapping.     Excerpted from The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.