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God of Small Things (Roy)

The God of Small Things
Arundhati Roy, 1997
HarperCollins
336 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780812979657



Summary
Winner, 1997 Man Booker Prize

Set in Kerala, India, in 1969, The God Of Small Things is the story of seven-year-old twins Rahel and Estha, born of a wealthy family and literally joined at the soul. Rahel and Estha are cared for by a host of compelling characters: their beautiful mother, Ammu, who has left a violent husband; their Marxist uncle, Chacko, still pining for his English wife and daughter who left him; their prickly grandaunt, Baby Kochamma, pickling in her virginity; and the volatile Veluth, a member of the Untouchable caste. When Chacko's ex-wife, Margaret, and lovely daughter, Sophie, unexpectedly return, the household is thrown into disarray. Tragedy strikes in the form of an accident (that may not have been accidental) and a terrifying murder.

Tremendously powerful and lushly romantic, The God Of Small Things effectively shifts between two time periods: Rahel's present-day trip home to see her mute, haunted twin brother, and a December day 20 years before — the tumultuous day that tears the family apart. With mesmerizing language that brings to mind such authors as Salman Rushdie, Gabriel García Márquez, and William Faulkner, The God Of Small Things ambitiously tackles such profound issues as family, race, and class, the dictates of history, and the laws of love. Rahel and Estha learn too soon that love and life can be lost in a millisecond. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—November 21, 1961
Where—Shillong, Meghalaya, India
Education—School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi
Awards—Booker Prize, 1997
Currently—lives in New Dheli, India


Arundhati Roy was trained as an architect and is also an award-winning screenwriter. The God of Small Things is her first novel. Like her twin protagonists, she was raised near her grandmother's pickle factory in Kerala, India. She now resides in New Delhi.

Suzanna Arundhati Roy is an Indian novelist, writer and activist. She won the Booker Prize in 1997 for her first novel, The God of Small Things and in 2002, the Lannan Cultural Freedom Prize.

Roy was born in Shillong, Meghalaya to a Keralite Syrian Christian mother, the women's rights activist Mary Roy, and a Bengali Hindu father, a tea planter by profession. She spent her childhood in Ayamenem in Kerala, and went to school in Corpus Christi, Kottayam, followed by The Lawrence School, Lovedale in the Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu. She then studied architecture at the School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi, where she met her first husband, architect Gerard DaCunha.

Roy met her second husband, filmmaker Pradip Krishen, in 1984, and became involved in film-making under his influence. She played a village girl in the award-winning movie Massey Sahib.

Roy is a niece of the prominent media personality Prannoy Roy and lives in New Delhi.

Roy began writing her first novel, The God of Small Things in 1992, completing it in 1996. The book is semi-autobiographical and a major part captures her childhood experiences in Ayemenem. The book received the 1997 Man Booker Prize for Fiction, was listed as one of the New York Times Notable Books of the Year for 1997. The book reached fourth position in the New York Times Bestsellers list for Independent Fiction. She received half a million pounds as an advance, and rights to the book were sold in 21 countries.

The God of Small Things received good reviews, including one from John Updike in The New Yorker. Carmen Callil, chair of the Booker judges panel in 1996 though, called The God of Small Things "an execrable book" and said it should never have reached the shortlist.

Roy wrote the screenplays for In Which Annie Gives it Those Ones (1989) and Electric Moon (1992) and a television serial The Banyan Tree. She also wrote the documentary DAM/AGE: A Film with Arundhati Roy (2002).

The God of Small Things is the only novel written by Roy. She has since devoted herself solely to nonfiction and politics, publishing two more collections of essays, as well as working for social causes. She is a figure-head of the anti-globalization/alter-globalization movement and a vehement critic of neo-imperialism and of the global policies of the United States. She also criticizes India's nuclear weapons policies and the approach to industrialization and rapid development as currently being practiced in India, including the Narmada Dam project and the power company Enron's activities in India.

More
Roy has campaigned along with activist Medha Patkar against the Narmada dam project, saying that the dam will displace half a million people, with little or no compensation, and will not provide the projected irrigation, drinking water and other benefits. Roy donated her Booker prize money as well as royalties from her books on the project to the Narmada Bachao Andolan.

Arundhati Roy's opposition to the Narmada Dam project has been criticised as "anti-Gujarat" by Congress and BJP leaders in Gujarat.

In 2002, Roy was convicted of contempt of court by the Indian Supreme Court for accusing the court of attempting to silence protests against the Narmada Dam Project. In its judgement, the Supreme Court Of India noted "we feel that the ends of justice would be met if she is sentenced to symbolic one day's imprisonment besides paying a fine of Rs. 2000." Roy served the prison sentence and paid the fine.

Environmental historian Ramachandra Guha has been critical of Roy's Narmada dam activism. While acknowledging her "courage and commitment" to the cause, Guha writes that her advocacy is hyperbolic and self-indulgent, "Ms. Roy's tendency to exaggerate and simplify, her Manichean view of the world, and her shrill hectoring tone, have given a bad name to environmental analysis". He faults Roy's criticism of Supreme Court judges who were hearing a petition brought by the Narmada Bachao Andolan as careless and irresponsible.

Roy counters that her writing is intentional in its passionate, hysterical tone — "I am hysterical. I'm screaming from the bloody rooftops. And he and his smug little club are going 'Shhhh...you'll wake the neighbours!' I want to wake the neighbours, that's my whole point. I want everybody to open their eyes." (From Wikipedia.)



Book Reviews
The quality of Ms. Roy’s narration is so extraordinary—at once so morally strenuous and so imaginatively supple—that the reader remains enthralled all the way through.
New York Times Book 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 powerin 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.
Publishers Weekly


This piercing study of childhood innocence lost mirrors the growing pains of modern India. Twin sister and brother Rahel and Estha are at the center of a family in crisis and at the heart of this "moving and compactly written book.
Library Journal


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.... Roy's intricate, enchanting, and often wry tale is positively mythical in its cosmic inevitability, evocative circularity, and paradoxical wisdom. —Donna Seaman
Booklist


A brilliantly constructed first novel that untangles an intricate web of sexual and caste conflict in a vivid style reminiscent of Salman Rushdie's early work. The major characters are Estha and Rahel, the fraternal twin son and daughter of a wealthy family living in the province of Kerala. The family's prosperity is derived from a pickle factory and rubber estate, and their prideful Anglophilia essentially estranges them from their country's drift toward Communism and their "inferiors" hunger for independence and equality. The events of a crucial December day in 1969—including an accidental death that may have been no accident and the violent consequences that afflict an illicit couple who have broken "the Love Law"—are the moral and narrative center around which the episodes of the novel repeatedly circle. Shifting backward and forward in time with effortless grace, Roy fashions a compelling nexus of personalities that influence the twins' "eerie stealth" and furtive interdependence. These include their beautiful and mysteriously remote mother Ammu; her battling "Mammachi" (who runs the pickle factory) and "Pappachi" (an insufficiently renowned entomologist); their Oxford-educated Marxist Uncle Chacko and their wily "grandaunt" Baby Kochamma; and the volatile laborite "Untouchable" Velutha, whose relationship with the twins' family will prove his undoing. Roy conveys their explosive commingling in a vigorous prose dominated by odd syntactical and verbal combinations and coinages (a bad dream experience during midday nap-time is an "aftermare") reminiscent of Gerard Manly Hopkins's "sprung rhythm," incantatory repetitions, striking metaphors (Velutha is seen "standing in the shade of the rubber trees with coins of sunshine dancing on his body") and sensuous descriptive passages ("The sky was orange, and the coconut trees were sea anemones waving their tentacles, hoping to trap and eat an unsuspecting cloud"). In part a perfectly paced mystery story, in part an Indian Wuthering Heights: a gorgeous and seductive fever dream of a novel, and a truly spectacular debut.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
1. Who—or what—is the God of Small Things? What other names and what divine and earthly attributes are associated with this god? What-or who-are the Small Things over which this god has dominion, and why do they merit their own god?

2. What are the various laws, rules, and regulations-familial, social, cultural, political, and religious-including "the Love Laws," to which Roy makes repeated references?

3. Various dwellings are important to the unfolding of Roy's story. How is each described? To what extentdoes each embody or reflect the forces and burdens of history, social order, and custom?

4. How does the river that flows through Ayemenem in 1969 differ from the river in 1992? What is its importance in the lives and histories of the two families and in the twins' childhood?

5. To what extent are race, social class, and religion important? What specific elements of each take on predominant importance, and with what consequences? How do the concept and the reality of "the Untouchable" function in the novel?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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