The God of Small Things

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The story of the tragic decline of an Indian family whose members suffer the terrible consequences of forbidden love, The God of Small Things is set in the state of Kerala, on the southernmost tip of India. Armed only with the invincible innocence of children, the twins Rahel and Esthappen fashion a childhood for themselves in the shade of the wreck that is their family ? their lonely, lovely mother, Ammu (who loves by night the man her children love by day), their blind grandmother, Mammachi (who plays Handel on...

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Overview

The story of the tragic decline of an Indian family whose members suffer the terrible consequences of forbidden love, The God of Small Things is set in the state of Kerala, on the southernmost tip of India. Armed only with the invincible innocence of children, the twins Rahel and Esthappen fashion a childhood for themselves in the shade of the wreck that is their family — their lonely, lovely mother, Ammu (who loves by night the man her children love by day), their blind grandmother, Mammachi (who plays Handel on her violin), their beloved uncle Chacko (Rhodes scholar, pickle baron, radical Marxist, bottom-pincher), their enemy, Baby Kochamma (ex-nun and incumbent grandaunt), and the ghost of an imperial entomologist's moth (with unusually dense dorsal tufts).

When their English cousin and her mother arrive on a Christmas visit, the twins learn that Things Can Change in a Day. That lives can twist into new, ugly shapes, even cease forever. The brilliantly plotted story uncoils with an agonizing sense of foreboding and inevitability. Yet nothing prepares you for what lies at the heart of it.

Winner of the 1997 Booker Prize

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Lawlessness of Love

To read Arundhati Roy's first novel, The God of Small Things, is to remind oneself how large the gods that dispense literary talent can be: Roy writes with extraordinary grace, creating a world so vivid and strangely beautiful that reading it is akin to entering a mirage. Like Salman Rushdie, Bharati Mukherjee, and Chitra Divakaruni, Roy is fascinated by the collision of the ancient and modern in India -- the age-old class hatreds and bigotry that continue to thrive beneath roofs studded with satellite dishes. And like those writers, she is expert at limning the territory of cultural dislocation. Roy's achievement lies in her ability to explore this dislocation through the ebbing fortunes of one particular Indian family. The story of the privileged yet doomed Kochammas is in many ways a miniaturized tale of India itself, a country in which, as Roy states, "misfortune is always relative," a country in which personal turmoil is dwarfed by the "vast, violent, insane public turmoil of a nation."

The novel opens with the return of Rahel Kochamma to her home in the southwest Indian province of Kerala 23 years after the drowning of her eight-year-old cousin, Sophie. Rahel has returned to see her twin brother, Estha, who was abruptly sent away in the aftermath of Sophie's death; he has himself only recently returned, rendered literally silent by that long-ago trauma. The landscape Rahel walks through is fecund and dank: "Boundaries blur as tapioca fences take root and bloom. Brick walls turn mossgreen. Pepper vines snake up electric poles. Wild creepers burst through laterite banks. Black crows gorge on bright mangoes." The riotous imagery is intentional: the monsoon air causes "locked windows to burst open," and "strange insects to appear...like ideas in the evenings." The sense of secrets about to burst, of tenuous bonds about to snap, pervades the narrative. The once-prosperous family Rahel is returning to (they used to own a thriving pickle factory) has been decimated: Rahel and Estha's mother, Ammu, is dead; their grief-stricken Marxist uncle, Chacko, a Rhodes scholar, has emigrated to Canada; Mammachi, their grandmother, is also dead. The only one that remains is their grand-aunt Baby Kochamma, whose obsessive love for gardening has been supplanted by a newfound passion for televised NBA tournaments and "Bold and the Beautiful" reruns. Seeing her seated in her turmeric-stained nightgown, swinging her puffy, tiny, manicured feet, it is hard to imagine the damage Baby wreaked on the twins so many years earlier.

It is to Roy's credit that the story that eventually surfaces of Baby's own past, including her unrequited love for a Benedictine monk, explains her actions while never excusing them. Indeed, the histories of all the members of the Kochamma clan -- unconventional, mysterious Ammu; Pappachi, the twins' grandfather, an accomplished but unacknowledged entomologist; Velutha, the gifted yet doomed untouchable -- are so fully portrayed that it is impossible to see even the most heinous among them as guilty. We see their foibles, dreams, weaknesses, and fury; we see them, in short, within the context of their own histories, and within the larger context of their position within Indian society. Wisely, Roy lets the fragments of their stories emerge gradually. Shifting back and forth through time, Roy circles the events of that summer slowly, all the while tightening the noose of her narrative. If the effect is occasionally chaotic, like the jumbled colors of a kaleidoscope before a pattern clicks into place, the complexity of Roy's mosaic redeems her.

A dazzling way with language doesn't hurt, either. In the humid atmosphere she has created, language itself seems to have twisted and exploded. Roy doesn't hesitate to make up words when ordinary ones don't suffice. Hence afternoon nightmares are called "aftermares," and fat Uncle Chacko's suit grows "less bursty" as he turns shy in front of the daughter he has not seen in several years. Odd yet compelling images abound: A house wears its steep gabled roof "pulled low over its ears, like a low hat." Bright plastic bags blow across the river bordering their home like "subtropical flying-flowers."

The God of Small Things isn't just about a summer when two children's innocence -- and a third's life -- is lost. It is about a country in which, as Roy states, "various kinds of despair compete for primacy." While exploring societal taboos and the often fatal consequences for those who disregard them, Roy, through the relationship between Estha and Rahel, also explores the limits of loyalty and the essential "Law-lessness" of love. In linking the political turmoil of India to the members of this extraordinary family, Roy has offered us a radically new history, a world so deeply imagined that it -- like the best of fictions -- reads as truth. The ability to touch and be touched, Roy knows, lies beyond legislation.

—Sarah Midori Zimmerman

Jennifer Howard

Arundhati Roy's rich, humid fairy tale of a novel begins in June, when the monsoon rains send the province of Kerala, in southwestern India, into fecund frenzy: "The countryside turns an immodest green ... Pepper vines snake up electric poles. Wild creepers burst through laterite banks and spill across the flooded roads." Behind this lush life, however, something festers. Rahel Kochamma, one of the novel's twin protagonists, returns to her family home in the Kerali town of Ayemenem, and decay slithers out to greet her. The house walls "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 glistening stone."

This slithering overripeness hints at what's really rotten in Ayemenem: the past, specifically a chain of events set in motion on "a skyblue day in December sixty-nine (the nineteen silent)," when the twins' half-English cousin, Sophie Mol, came to visit. Two weeks later Sophie was dead, drowned in Ayemenem's river, leaving behind a shattered family and a terrible secret. The narrative eddies along toward the secret of Sophie's death, but ultimately it flows into the drowning depths of history. The God of Small Things is a story of forbidden, cross-caste love and what a community will do to protect the old ways. The Kochamma family business, Paradise Pickles and Preserves, is emblematic of the theme. Ayemenem is practically pickled in history. Roy, an architect and screenwriter who grew up in Kerala, capably shoulders the burdens of caste and tradition, a double weight that crushes some of her characters and warps others, but leaves none untouched.

Roy takes up classic material, but she delights in verbal innovation and stylistic tricks. She runs words together -- "thunderdarkness," "echoing stationsounds" -- and plucks nouns from verbs and verbs from thin air. And she has hit on a striking way of getting at a child's point of view (told in third person, the story unfolds more or less as young Rahel and Estha experience it). When her mother tells a rambunctious Rahel to "Stoppit," Rahel "stoppited." At Sophie's funeral, a bat alights on a mourner: "the singing stopped for a 'Whatisit?' 'Whathappened?' and for a Furrywhirring and a Sariflapping."

At times it feels as though you've dropped into a faux Rushdie novel, with cartwheeling corpses and talking statues. Mostly, though, Roy's verbal exuberance is all her own, and it makes The God of Small Things a real pleasure. History's lessons may be bitter, but Roy serves them up fresh, pungent and delicious. -- Salon

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
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 frailtiesand 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.
Library Journal
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." LJ 4/15/97
Kirkus Reviews

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.

From the Publisher
“Dazzling . . . as subtle as it is powerful.”
–Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“[The God of Small Things] offers such magic, mystery, and sadness that, literally, this reader turned the last page and decided to reread it. Immediately. It’s that hauntingly wonderful.”
–USA Today

“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.”
–The New York Times Book Review

“A novel of real ambition must invent its own language, and this one does.”
–John Updike, The New Yorker

“Outstanding. A glowing first novel.”
–Newsweek

“Splendid and stunning.”
–The Washington Post Book World

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060977498
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 6/28/1998
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 336
  • Lexile: 840L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Arundhati Roy was trained as an architect. She has worked as a production designer and has written the screenplays for two films. She lives in New Delhi. This is her first book.

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Read an Excerpt

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 laterite 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 theskyblue 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 Baba, 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 God of Small Things. Copyright © by Arundati Roy. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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First Chapter

CHAPTER ONE

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 laterite banks and spill across the flooded roads. Boats ply in the bazaars. And small fish appear in the puddles that fill the 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-chasted, 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 Baba, 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 coffinwood.

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.

The sad priests dusted out their curly beards with goldringed fingers as though hidden spiders had spun sudden cobwebs in them.

The baby bat flew up into the sky and turned into a jet plane without a crisscrossed trail.

Only Rahel noticed Sophie Mol's secret cartwheel in her coffin.

The sad singing started again and they sang the same sad verse twice. And once more the yellow church swelled like a throat with voices.

When they lowered Sophie Mol's coffin into the ground in the little cemetery behind the church, Rahel knew that she still wasn't dead. She heard (on Sophie Mol's behalf) the softsounds of the red mud and the hardsounds of the orange laterite that spoiled the shining coffin polish. She heard the dullthudding through the polished coffin wood, through the satin coffin lining. The sad priests' voices muffled by mud and wood.

We entrust into thy hands, most merciful Father,
The soul of this our child departed.
And we commit her body to the ground,
Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Inside the earth Sophie Mol screamed, and shredded satin with her teeth. But you can't hear screams through earth and stone.

Sophie Mol died because she couldn't breathe.

Her funeral killed her. Dus to dus to dus to dus to dus. On her tomb-stone it said A SUNBEAM LENT TO US TOO BRIEFLY.

Ammu explained later that Too Briefly meant For Too Short a While.

After the funeral Ammu took the twins back to the Kottayam police station. They were familiar with the place. They had spent a good part of the previous day there. Anticipating the sharp, smoky stink of old urine that permeated the walls and furniture, they clamped their nostrils shut well before the smell began.

Ammu asked for the Station House Officer, and when she was shown into his office she told him that there had been a terrible mistake and that she wanted to make a statement. She asked to see Velutha.

Inspector Thomas Mathew's mustaches bustled like the friendly Air India Maharajah's, but his eyes were sly and greedy.

"It's a little too late for all this, don't you chink?" he said. He spoke the coarse Kottayam dialect of Malayalam. He stared at Ammu's breasts as he spoke. He said the police knew all they needed to know and that the Kottayam Police didn't take statements from veshyas or their illegitimate children. Ammu said she'd see about that. Inspector Thomas Mathew came around his desk and approached Ammu with his baton.

"If I were you," he said, "I'd go home quietly." Then he tapped her breasts with his baton. Gently. Tap tap. As though he was choosing mangoes from a basket. Pointing out the ones that he wanted packed and delivered. Inspector Thomas Mathew seemed to know whom he could pick on and whom he couldn't. Policemen have that instinct.

Behind him a red and blue board said:

Politeness.
Obedience.
Loyalty.
Intelligence.
Courtesy.
Efficiency.

When they left the police station Ammu was crying, so Estha and Rahel didn't ask her what veshya meant. Or, for that matter, illegitimate. It was the first time they'd seen their mother cry. She wasn't sobbing. Her face was set like stone, but the tears welled up in her eyes and ran down her rigid cheeks. It made the twins sick with fear. Ammu's tears made everything that had so far seemed unreal, real. They went back to Ayemenem by bus. The conductor, a narrow man in khaki, slid towards them on the bus rails. He balanced his bony hips against the back of a seat and clicked his ticket-puncher at Ammu. Where to? the click was meant to mean. Rahel could smell the sheaf of bus tickets and the sourness of the steel bus rails on the conductor's hands.

"He's dead," Ammu whispered to him. "I've killed him."

"Ayemenem," Estha said quickly, before the conductor lost his temper.

He took the money out of Ammu's purse. The conductor gave him the tickets. Estha folded them carefully and put them in his pocket. Then he put his little arms around his rigid, weeping mother.

Two weeks later, Estha was Returned. Ammu was made to send him back to their father, who had by then resigned his lonely tea-estate job in Assam and moved to Calcutta to work for a company that made carbon black. He had remarried, stopped drinking (more or less) and suffered only occasional relapses.

Estha and Rahel hadn't seen each other since.

And now, twenty-three years later, their father had re-Returned Estha. He had sent him back to Ayemenem with a suitcase and a letter. The suitcase was full of smart new clothes. Baby Kochamma showed Rahel the letter. It was written in a slanting, feminine, convent-school hand, but the signature underneath was their father's. Or at least the name was. Rahel wouldn't have recognized the signature. The letter said that he, their father, had retired from his carbon-black job and was emigrating to Australia, where he had got a job as Chief of Security at a ceramics factory, and that he couldn't take Estha with him. He wished everybody in Ayemenem the very best and said that he would look in on Estha if he ever came back to India, which, he went on to say, was a bit unlikely.

Baby Kochamma told Rahel that she could keep the letter if she wanted to. Rahel put it back into its envelope. The paper had grown soft, and folded like cloth.

She had forgotten just how damp the monsoon air in Ayemenem could be. Swollen cupboards creaked. Locked windows burst open. Books got soft and wavy between their covers. Strange insects appeared like ideas in the evenings and burned themselves on Baby Kochamma's dim forty-watt bulbs. In the daytime their crisp, incinerated corpses littered the floor and windowsills, and until Kochu Maria swept them away in her plastic dustpan, the air smelled of Something Burning.

It hadn't changed, the June Rain.

Heaven opened and the water hammered down, reviving the reluctant old well, greenmossing the pigless pigsty, carpet bombing still, tea-colored puddles the way memory bombs still, tea-colored minds. The grass looked wetgreen and pleased. Happy earthworms frolicked purple in the slush. Green nettles nodded. Trees bent.

Further away, in the wind and rain, on the banks of the river, in the sudden thunderdarkness of the day, Estha was walking. He was wearing a crushed-strawberry-pink T-shirt, drenched darker now, and he knew that Rahel had come.

Estha had always been a quiet child, so no one could pinpoint with any degree of accuracy exactly when (the year, if not the month or day) he had stopped talking. Stopped talking altogether, that is. The fact is that there wasn't an "exactly when." It had been a gradual winding down and closing shop. A barely noticeable quietening. As though he had simply run out of conversation and had nothing left to say. Yet Estha's silence was never awkward. Never intrusive. Never noisy. It wasn't an accusing, protesting silence as much as a sort of estivation, a dormancy, the psychological equivalent of what lungfish do to get themselves through the dry season, except that in Estha's case the dry season looked as though it would last forever.

Over time he had acquired the ability to blend into the background of wherever he was--into bookshelves, gardens, curtains, doorways, streets--to appear inanimate, almost invisible to the untrained eye. It usually took strangers awhile to notice him even when they were in the same room with him. It took them even longer to notice that he never spoke. Some never noticed at all.

Estha occupied very little space in the world.

After Sophie Mol's funeral, when Estha was Returned, their father sent him to a boys' school in Calcutta. He was not an exceptional student, but neither was he backward, nor particularly bad at anything. An average student, or Satisfactory work were the usual comments that his teachers wrote in his Annual Progress Reports. Does not participate in Group Activities was another recurring complaint. Though what exactly they meant by "Group Activities" they never said.

Estha finished school with mediocre results, but refused to go to college. Instead, much to the initial embarrassment of his father and stepmother, he began to do the housework. As though in his own way he was trying to earn his keep. He did the sweeping, swabbing and all the laundry. He learned to cook and shop for vegetables. Vendors in the bazaar, sitting behind pyramids of oiled, shining vegetables, grew to recognize him and would attend to him amidst the clamoring of their other customers. They gave him rusted film cans in which to put the vegetables he picked. He never bargained. They never cheated him. When the vegetables had been weighed and paid for, they would transfer them to his red plastic shopping basket (onions at the bottom, brinjal and tomatoes on the top) and always a sprig of coriander and a fistful of green chilies for free. Estha carried them home in the crowded tram. A quiet bubble floating on a sea of noise.

At mealtimes, when he wanted something, he got up and helped himself.

Once the quietness arrived, it stayed and spread in Estha. It reached out of his head and enfolded him in its swampy arms. It rocked him to the rhythm of an ancient, fetal heartbeat. It sent its stealthy, suckered tentacles inching along the insides of his skull, hoovering the knolls and dells of his memory, dislodging old sentences, whisking them off the tip of his tongue. It stripped his thoughts of the words that described them and left them pared and naked. Unspeakable. Numb. And to an observer therefore, perhaps barely there. Slowly, over the years, Estha withdrew from the world. He grew accustomed to the uneasy octopus that lived inside him and squirted its inky tranquilizer on his past. Gradually the reason for his silence was hidden away, entombed somewhere deep in the soothing folds of the fact of it.

When Khubchand, his beloved, blind, bald, incontinent seventeen-year-old mongrel decided to stage a miserable, long-drawn-out death, Estha nursed him through his final ordeal as though his own life somehow depended on it. In the last months of his life, Khubchand, who had the best of intentions but the most unreliable of bladders, would drag himself to the top-hinged dog-flap built into the bottom of the door that led out into the back garden, push his head through it and urinate unsteadily, bright yellowly, inside. Then, with bladder empty and conscience clear, he would look up at Estha with opaque green eyes that stood in his grizzled skull like scummy pools and weave his way back to his damp cushion, leaving wet footprints on the floor. As Khubchand lay dying on his cushion, Estha could see the bedroom window reflected in his smooth, purple balls. And the sky beyond. And once a bird that flew across. To Estha--steeped in the smell of old roses, blooded on memories of a broken man--the fact that something so fragile, so unbearably tender had survived, had been allowed to exist, was a miracle. A bird in flight reflected in an old dog's balls. It made him smile out loud.

After Khubchand died, Estha started his walking. He walked for hours on end. Initially he patrolled only the neighborhood, but gradually went farther and farther afield.

People got used to seeing him on the road. A well-dressed man with a quiet walk. His face grew dark and outdoorsy. Rugged. Wrinkled by the sun. He began to look wiser than he really was. Like a fisherman in a city. With sea-secrets in him.

Now that he'd been re-Returned, Estha walked all over Ayemenem.

Some days he walked along the banks of the river that smelled of shit and pesticides bought with World Bank loans. Most of the fish had died. The ones that survived suffered from fin-rot and had broken out in boils.

Other days he walked down the road. Past the new, freshly baked, iced, Gulf-money houses built by nurses, masons, wire-benders and bank clerks, who worked hard and unhappily in faraway places. Past the resentful older houses tinged green with envy, cowering in their private driveways among their private rubber trees. Each a tottering fiefdom with an epic of its own.

He walked past the village school that his great-grandfather built for Untouchable children.

Past Sophie Mol's yellow church. Past the Ayemenem Youth Kung Fu Club. Past the Tender Buds Nursery School (for Touchables), past the ration shop that sold rice, sugar and bananas that hung in yellow bunches from the roof. Cheap soft-porn magazines about fictitious South Indian sex-fiends were clipped with clothes pegs to ropes that hung from the ceiling. They spun lazily in the warm breeze, tempting honest ration-buyers with glimpses of ripe, naked women Lying in pools of fake blood.

Sometimes Estha walked past Lucky Press--old Comrade K.N.M. Pillai's printing press, once the Ayemenem office of the Communist Party, where midnight study meetings were held, and pamphlets with rousing lyrics of Marxist Party songs were printed and distributed. The flag that fluttered on the roof had grown limp and old. The red had bled away.

Comrade Pillai himself came out in the mornings in a graying Aertex vest, his balls silhouetted against his soft white mundu. He oiled himself with warm, peppered coconut oil, kneading his old, loose flesh that stretched willingly off his bones like chewing gum. He lived alone now. His wife, Kalyani, had died of ovarian cancer. His son, Lenin, had moved to Delhi, where he worked as a services contractor for foreign embassies.

If Comrade Pillai was outside his house oiling himself when Estha walked past, he made it a point to greet him.

"Estha Mon!" he would call out, in his high, piping voice, frayed and fibrous now, like sugarcane stripped of its bark. "Good morning! Your daily constitutional?"

Estha would walk past, not rude, not polite. Just quiet.

Comrade Pillai would slap himself all over to get his circulation going. He couldn't tell whether Estha recognized him after all those years or not. Not that he particularly cared. Though his part in the whole thing had by no means been a small one, Comrade Pillai didn't hold himself in any way personally responsible for what had happened. He dismissed the whole business as the Inevitable Consequence of Necessary Politics. The old omelette-and-eggs thing. But then, Comrade K. N. M. Pillai was essentially a political man. A professional omeletteer. He walked through the world like a chameleon. Never revealing himself, never appearing not to. Emerging through chaos unscathed.

He was the first person in Ayemenem to hear of Rahel's return. The news didn't perturb him as much as excite his curiosity. Estha was almost a complete stranger to Comrade Pillai. His expulsion from Ayemenem had been so sudden and unceremonious, and so very long ago. But Rahel Comrade Pillai knew well. He had watched her grow up. He wondered what had brought her back. After all these years.

It had been quiet in Estha's head until Rahel came. But with her she had brought the sound of passing trains, and the light and shade and light and shade that falls on you if you have a window seat. The world, locked out for years, suddenly flooded in, and now Estha couldn't hear himself for the noise. Trains. Traffic. Music. The stock market. A dam had burst and savage waters swept everything up in a swirling. Comets, violins, parades, loneliness, clouds, beards, bigots, lists, flags, earthquakes, despair were all swept up in a scrambled swirling.

And Estha, walking on the riverbank, couldn't feel the wetness of the rain, or the sudden shudder of the cold puppy that had temporarily adopted him and squelched at his side. He walked past the old mangosteen tree and up to the edge of a laterite spur that jutted out into the river. He squatted on his haunches and rocked himself in the rain. The wet mud under his shoes made rude, sucking sounds. The cold puppy shivered--and watched.

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Introduction

The questions, discussion topics, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your group's reading of Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things. We hope they will give you a number of interesting angles from which to consider this mesmerizing work of fiction, a novel that is simultaneously mysterious, poetic, and romantic.

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Foreword

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? Does Roy's God of Small Things share attributes with any members of the Hindu pantheon?

2. What are the various laws, rules, and regulations—familial, social, cultural, political, and religious—including "the Love Laws," to which Roy makes repeated reference? What sanctions are in place for those who obey or transgress? Are all the kinds of love presented in the novel equally covered by "the Love Laws"?

3. Various dwellings are important to the unfolding of Roy's story—from the Kochamma house, to Kari Saipu's abandoned mansion, to Velutha's family's hut, to Comrade Pillai's small house, to the von Trapp house in The Sound of Music? How is each described? To what extent does each embody or reflect the forces and burdens of history, social order, and custom?

4. The river that flows through Ayemenem touches on every aspect of life there. How does the river 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? How are we to take the comment of Kuttappen, Velutha's crippled brother, that "This river of ours—she isn't always what she pretends to be—.You must be careful of her."

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 conceptand the reality of "the Untouchable" function in the novel?

6. Why does Roy switch back and forth among time present and various times past? To what purpose, and with what effect, are key events revealed detail by detail? Is the sequence of revelation of particular importance?

7. Is Time as Destroyer the novel's most insistent theme? How are the blue Plymouth, the pickle factory, Rahel's toy wristwatch (which always reads "ten to two"), the children's boat, and other objects related to this theme?

8. "He was called Velutha—which means White in Malayalam—because he was so black;" and at age 11 he "was like a little magician." What is the full extent of Velutha the Untouchable's role in the story? In what ways might he be said to embody all the novel's themes and concerns? Do we share Ammu's realization, as Velutha rises from the river on their first night of love, that "the world they stood in was his?"

9. To what extent do even the most fantastical events result from everyday passions? What feelings and passions—including anger, fear, resentment, longing, and jealousy—are predominant, and how do they determine key events? Which emotions are strongest among the children, and which among the adults?

10. How does Roy portray the twins' extraordinary spiritual connection, their "single Siamese soul," the fragile, wonder-filled world of their childhood, their often magical vision, and their differences? Is her re-creation of the child's world convincing?

11. What importance does Roy ascribe to story, storytelling, and play-acting, including the Kathakali dances and stories? To what extent is the telling of a story more important than the story itself? How are we to take Roy's statement that "the secret of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets. They are as familiar as the house you live in. Or the smell of your lover's skin?"

12. In what ways are the Kochamma women subjected to male dominance, indifference, and even cruelty, and in what ways are they decisive in their own lives, the life of their family, and the affairs of their community? In what ways has Baby Kochamma "lived her life backwards"? Have they all lived their lives backwards? Is Ammu's rage against "the smug, ordered world" justified?

13. Baby Kochamma's harbors an "age-old fear— of being dispossessed." What kinds of dispossession occur in the novel, and in association with which characters and which events? With what consequences?

14. "Some things come with their own punishments," Roy writes. "They would all learn more about punishments soon. That they came in different sizes." What "sizes" of punishment are specified, and who decides those "sizes?" For what offenses? Who are the punishers, and who are the punished?

15. Rahel reveals to Sophie Mol a list of those she loves; and we learn that this list was "an attempt to order chaos. She revised it constantly, torn forever between love and duty." What other attempts are there "to order chaos?" Is the primary conflict for every character "between love and duty?"

16. Roy writes that Inspector Mathew and Comrade Pillai "were both men whom childhood had abandoned without a trace. Men without curiosity. Without doubt. Both in their own way truly, terrifyingly adult." Can this be said of others? How does Roy contrast the imaginative, curious children and the literal, uncurious adults? What makes Mathew, Pillai, and others "terrifyingly adult?"

17. Is there anything truly shocking about Estha and Rahel's lovemaking in the next-to-final chapter? What does Roy mean when she writes, "There is very little that anyone could say to clarify what happened next. Nothing that (in Mammachi's book) would separate Sex from Love. Or Needs from Feelings"?

18. Roy has said that her architectural studies determined her novel's structure. In what ways can we view the novel's plan and construction as architectural? In what ways is the novel's "architecture" related to actual buildings in the novel?

19. Does a single moment of true, intense love compensate for centuries of oppression, cruelty, and madness?

20. Why does Roy end the novel with a detailed depiction of Ammu and Velutha's first night of lovemaking and the promise of "Tomorrow?"

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Interviews & Essays

On Tuesday, May 19th, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Arundhati Roy, author of The GOD OF SMALL THINGS.


Moderator: Welcome to barnesandnoble.com, Arundhati Roy! We are so pleased that you could fit us in to your busy tour schedule to discuss your acclaimed novel THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS.



Dale H. from Williamsburg, VA: Your use of the English language in this book is very intriguing and highly original. It isn't to my ear British or American English. You seem to invent syntax. My question is this Did you borrow a form of storytelling from Indian oral traditions? And secondly, how would you describe your own writing style or "voice"?

Arundhati Roy: I don't describe it, in the sense that I have no perspective on my own language. I've often said that language is the skin [of] my throat...so I don't spend a lot of time analzying or thinking about it or defining it.



Taylor from Springfield: What was the reaction in India to your book and its success? Secondly, why do you think there has been such a popular resurgence in interest and appreciation of Indian novelists? A past issue of The New Yorker magazine was devoted to them. Congratulations on the Booker Prize!

Arundhati Roy: The reaction in India in many ways was the same as the reaction of the world. People have reacted to the emotional heart of the book. In India there has been some negative reaction. A man filed a criminal case against me for corrupting public morality. There was some trouble from the government in Kerala. But other than that the reaction has been the same as everywhere else in the world. There are writers from all sorts of places which are ex-colonies that somehow bring a new way of writing and thinking in English. These countries, truly, are now going through troubled times, and the moral dilemmas they are going through are huge, and therefore the stories are huge.



Leslie from Denver, Co: I haven't read THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS but have heard such wonderful things about it. My book club will be choosing it for our next discussion. Can you tell us in your own words what it is about? Thanks -- I love hearing how authors describe their own books.

Arundhati Roy: Unfortunately, this author doesn't describe her books, because I think a story is the simplest way of describing a complex world, and I can't simplify it any further.



Emily Berry from Baltimore, MD: At the beginning of your novel you distinguish quite clearly between "the god of small things" and "the god of large things." Is this distinction one that carries special force or weight for a nontraditional Westerner? For someone making the transition from a traditional society and culture to modernism? On what grounds should this distinction appeal to members of contemporary Western culture?

Arundhati Roy: Well, to answer the second part, since I am not a part of contemporary Western culture I can't speak for it. For me the book is about connections and how the smallest things connect to the biggest things. And thereby create the texture which eventually becomes human history.



Blake Katz from Santa Fe, NM: I read your book, and though I enjoyed the language, I did not find anything necessarily positive or redeeming in its message. In your view, is it necessary to find something redeeming in any of your characters? Do you think any of the characters have redeeming qualities? Or is the search for such qualities by the reader irrelevant? If so, why?

Arundhati Roy: Well, I often say a story is like the surface of water, and you can see what you wish to see in it. The book never offers you one solution or one way of seeing things. It is about how there is tragedy, happiness, sadness, little fish of shame in a sea of glory. It isn't about something redeeming or not, it is a view of the world, and there is everything in it.



Karin H from Charlotte, NC: You must have had a rich set of experiences growing up to write such an interesting book. Is this book at all reflective of your life? Do you have a special affinity or similarity to any of the characters?

Arundhati Roy: Well, for me, fiction is philosophy...a meditation about the world. This book is located very close to me, but it is not autobiographical. It is located from the clay of the world that I know and located in the village that I grew up in.



Felix Reategui from Lima, Peru: I find Naipaul an extraordinary writer, though I've often wondered how acute his views are about Indian civilization and people. Do you recognize your huge and extremely varied country in his writings? What are your feelings towards him? Do you have him on your mind for your creative fiction? (By the way, THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS is extraordinary -- needless to say, no?) Thanks.

Arundhati Roy: I think that Naipaul is an extraordinary writer. The great thing about him is he is so much in control of his art. You have to admire his vision.



Paul from Morris Plains, NJ: How did you get this book published? Were you at all surprised at the tremendous success your book had with reviewers and readers alike?

Arundhati Roy: Well, it seemed as if the stars were right, and the waters parted in a total magical way. But quite simply, someone that I know who read my book sent it to an agent in England. They read it and took the next plane to India. That's how it got published.



Nelson from London: When are you going to write another book?

Arundhati Roy: Don't know.



Nicole from Sudbury, MA: Is it true that it took you five years to write this book? Did you really write for five hours a day? Wow!

Arundhati Roy: Not five hours a day -- a little less, especially in the initial stages. I wrote for about four. But it did take me four and half years to write it.



Barbara C. from Syracuse: I am interested in your religious background. Are you Syrian Christian? Do you know when Syrian Christians first arrived in India? Why did they emigrate there? Syrian Christians are obviously a distinctive, peculiar minority in India. What function does this serve in the novel?

Arundhati Roy: The Syrian Christians didn't emigrate. They are a minority not just in India but also in Kerala, the southernmost state of India. In my book, it doesn't really matter whether they are people belonging to another religion. Kerala is a unique state. Some of the greatest religious figures lived there. The book is really about how these edifices that are constructed by the human intellect are leveled by human nature. It is more about biology than history.



Cary Carson from Newport: What would you identify as the universal themes in your novel? I see for instance gender relations, child abuse, the legacy of Western imperialism/colonialism in non-Western society, class, and the impact of Western technologies on a traditional society as a few. Am I warm?

Arundhati Roy: Well, I think it is a book about love and loss and childhood and really about [how] since the dawn of time human societies have found ways to divide themselves up and make war and love across these divisions.



Martin from Boston, MA: Who are some of your literary influences? Are you a fan of Kipling or Gabriel García Márquez?

Arundhati Roy: I am an immense fan of Kipling -- I could recite him before I could read. I don't necessarily agree with his stated views on India, but I think he was a great writer. Joyce, Nabokov...Marquez is great but I don't think an influence. Magic realism isn't really my genre.



Janine from Yarmouth: Do you plan to do any more work on films or screenwriting?

Arundhati Roy: I don't have any plans, and I don't know what I am going to do.



Ritu Bontha from Houston, TX: I enjoyed THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS very much, particularly the poetic prose in which it is written. I wondered if you considered Velutha the "god of small things" or if the title is simply a metaphor. Also, I read much of the book following Rahel as the heroine but began to wonder towards the end if Ammu was the true "heroine." Or perhaps there was no hero to speak of. Have you written anything else (I know that there are two screenplays) that are available to us to read? I'd also like to know when you may be in Houston, Texas.

Arundhati Roy: Well, as I said, I don't want to legislate who is the heroine. I want everyone to draw what they want from the story. The god of small things is the inversion of what they think of god as. It is a powerless god in a way. A god of loss.And no, the screenplays haven't been published.



Melanie L. from San Diego, CA: What is your view of the special significance of fraternal twins? Does one usually find that of the two, one is stronger, one dependent? How would you describe the relationship between Estha and Rahel? Why did you choose to write about twins?

Arundhati Roy: For me it was somehow to explore something that was intrinsically brutal in our natures. They were really doing that; they loved each other with an inarticulate, aching love. This was interesting to me because you don't really understand love until you understand its brutality. So that is why I chose to write about them.



Paul from Fort Myers, FL: Your language is very colorful and almost musical -- full of metaphors. Did you find the words came easily, or did you do a lot of rewriting? What type of writing schedule did you keep? Congratulations on the success of your novel -- well deserved!

Arundhati Roy: No, I didn't do a lot of rewriting. I am not searching for words, and I don't suffer while I write in that sense. But I am quite disciplined in my writing. I worked every day on the novel when I was writing it.



Renee from Middlebrook: I really loved your playfulness with punctuation, capitalization, and spelling ("Infinnate Joy"). It was so refreshing. How and why did you decide to use this play on words?

Arundhati Roy: I don't know the answer to that. I just think that when you are somehow in touch with your childhood and still remember how to play, these things happen.



Moderator: Thank you for this fascinating discussion of THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS. Do you have any closing comments for your online audience?

Arundhati Roy: I don't want to talk any more than what is in my book. Thank you.


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Reading Group Guide

Plot Summary:

"May in Ayemenem is a hot, brooding month."

"Tomorrow."

Between this remarkable novel's first and last sentences, between May 1992 and December 1969, between the freighted present and past elusive hope, Arundhati Roy constructs a tale as far reaching and sensuous as myth, as inescapable as history, as passionate as the loves that impel the members of the Kochamma family to their fates. Told mainly from the perspective of 7-year-old Rahel and Estha, "two-egg twins," and from that of Rahel 23 years later, Roy's story focuses on two tragic events in 1969-the drowning of the twins' 9-year-old Anglo-English cousin, Sophie Mol, and the murder of Velutha, the Untouchable carpenter beloved by the twins and their divorced mother, Ammu. Moving back and forth through time, guiding us through the many-splendored mansion of her tale, Roy ingeniously reveals-chamber by chamber, heartbeat by heartbeat-the details, the "small things" that fill her characters' lives and furnish the dwellings that cannot protect them.

Topics for Discussion:
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?

About the Author: Arundhati Roy was trained as an architect. She has worked as a production designer and has written the screenplays for two films. She lives in New Delhi. This is her first book.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 154 )
Rating Distribution

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4 Star

(28)

3 Star

(14)

2 Star

(9)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 154 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 15, 2009

    Raising children in a changing India

    This book is skillfully written showing how difficult life can become for children and their parents when traditions and familiar things are changed forever as the influence of a great nation brings its own forms of education and traditions to bear on another great but politically weaker nation. The needs of the young and helpless must not be overlooked and dealt with harshly and indifferently in these circumstances, as the authoress cleverly and clearly portrays.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 16, 2008

    Beautiful!

    I really don't understand where the bad reviews are coming from. In all honesty, this is not a light read, but its genius! Roy's syntax and diction further highlight the tradgic events of the story. It is dazzling - I couldn't put it down! I found myself thinking about it even when I wasn't reading it. It's perfect.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 19, 2013

    The God of Small Things, the first (and so far, only) novel by I

    The God of Small Things, the first (and so far, only) novel by Indian writer, Arundhati Roy, was written between 1992 and 1996. This (semi-autobiographical) story takes place in the village of Ayemenem and the town of Kottayam, near Cochin in Kerala, and is set principally during two time periods: December 1969 and 23 years later. The main characters are Esthappen (Estha) and Rahel, seven-year-old two-egg (i.e. non-identical) twins, and their mother Ammu. Ammu falls in love with Velutha Paapen, a Paraven (Untouchable) who works for the family’s Pickle Factory, a man the twins already list amongst their most-loved. But even in 1969, with a Communist Government, parts of India are still firmly in the grip of the Caste system. By breaking the "Love Laws," or "The laws that lay down who should be loved, and how. And how much”, Ammu and the twins set in motion “The Terror”. The manipulations of Ammu’s aunt, Baby Kochamma, are instrumental in bringing down The Terror, and her subsequent cruelty to Ammu and the twins will leave readers gasping. 
    As well as commenting on the Caste system and Class discrimination in general, the novel examines Indian history and politics, the taboos of conventional society, and religion. But more than anything, this is a story about love and betrayal. 
    The innocent observations of 7-year-olds, their interpretation of unfamiliar words and phrases, the (typically Indian) Capitalisation of Significant Words, the running together of and splitting apart of words , the phonetic spelling, all are a source of humour and delight in this novel. “It’s an afternoon-mare”, Estha-the-Accurate replied. “She dreams a lot”. Even as Estha is being molested by the Orangedrink Lemondrink man in the Abhilash Talkies, his observations (“Not a moonbeam.”) bring laughter. Echoes, repetitions and resonances abound. Roy is a master of the language: “So futile. Like polishing firewood.” Her prose is luminous. This novel is powerful, moving, tragic. Beautifully written, with wonderful word pictures.
    This novel demands at least two reads: once to learn the story; a second time to appreciate the echoes and repetitions and understand what the early references mean. It deserves a third reading to fully appreciate the prose, the descriptive passages. On this, my third reading, I read parts I would swear I had not read earlier. And I had tears in my eyes very early in the novel. I loved this book when I first read it: I love it even more now. I remain hopeful that Arundhati Roy will share her considerable literary talents with her eager readers in the form of another novel. 

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 17, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Not my favorite

    Wasnt too crazy about this read. While the stucture is widely praised I found it to be quite confusing and distracted me from the story by needing to figure iut if it was past and present. There were also a few plot lines that went underdevoped and unresolved. I know this is a successful book but I was left underwhelmed

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 17, 2011

    Amazing

    this is the second time I have read this amazing book. It is a difficult story to read but touches on the basis of hate, which is fear. The story is beautifically written and the reader is captivated from the beginning. It is a tragic story and the hero is Velutha the villian is the unhappy jealous family. I will read this book again.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 8, 2011

    buy it

    gorgeous. haunting.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 28, 2010

    Delicious Writing

    I have had a love affair with this novel for over 10 years now. I read a lot and this novel stands in a class on its own. I have never read another novel that has come close to matching the grace of her delicious writing style. The story itself is small, but the words dance across the pages in a way that makes you stop and pause on the most beautiful ones.
    I could not put this book down. It is one of the very few novels that I continue to read over and over again and it saddens me that Arundhati Roy never wrote another novel of this kind.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2009

    Had to Re-Read It the Moment I Finished

    I often re-read my favorite books, but the moment I finished this one I had to start from the beginning. Captivating and complex, it is a beautifully told story. I would recommend it to friends and family.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 23, 2009

    Truly about the Small Things

    The one thing that stuck with me even after I read this book were the twins. They are so real to me that I feel everything they are feeling, I cherished all of the little sayings they had, the childish things they did and their relationship with their mother. They're so likable you feel like you know them. I read this book slowly because I wanted to capture all of the beautiful language of Mrs.Roy and the atmosphere she created and I recommend the same for you.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 12, 2009

    Difficult read

    I had to force myself to finish this book. The author frequently switch from one time frame to another. In the end, it was an interesting story but the attention to detail made it a bit tedious to read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 14, 2008

    I Also Recommend:

    Disapointed

    I was disgusted by two things:<BR/>1. E. Pelivs was molested in the movie theater<BR/>2. The two egg twins committed incest<BR/><BR/>The book seemed to have taken me F O R E V E R to read, it was confusing to follow as the author jumps around in her writings. I was left with a sour taste and was disapointed with the story entirely.

    1 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 12, 2008

    Human being

    A soon as I started to read God of Small Things, I felt it was going to be one of those books that I will never finish. Guess what? I did finish it. It was a bit confusing. The author sometimes went into great dept. Still, I must admit that this book had beautiful language at parts. Her description was great but not perfect. Estha and Rahel¿s ambassador titles were really funny!! I couldn¿t help feeling sorry for Ammu and the unfairness of the society she lived in. The author¿s greater message was very important. I don¿t regret reading it all.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 3, 2007

    A Book Worth Reading

    I can understand how other reviewers found the book to be somewhat confusing and expansive but ultimatly I thought it was very well written and utterly haunting. I read the book once and although I understood the plot of the story I really only appreciated the nuances and detail after finishing it for the second time. Once you know what will happen in the novel, you can understand sentences that otherwise seem random and confusing. Ex. 'A young man with an old man's mouth' makes more sense once you realize the fate of one of the novel's characters.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 6, 2014

    Cabin 13- Hades

    Only 4 children of Hades please.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2013

    This is a book that, years after reading it, I still think about

    This is a book that, years after reading it, I still think about.

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  • Posted January 29, 2011

    life changing

    this is quite simply a MUST-READ. just do it. and then read it again. and then buy a copy for all of the readers in your life.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 15, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    So many beautiful words that never get to the point

    Reading this book is intoxicating in a sense; the prose is rich and paints incredible pictures and characters. But it plays upon one theme and never fully explains it. The plot ping-pongs distractingly between present and past, and never does a full job of connecting the dots between the two. I got to the end feeling a bit cheated - all these gorgeous words and interesting characters, and what the heck happened? A better flashback/historical fiction book is "The Madonnas of Leningrad".

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 17, 2009

    I don't know why I hadn't read this book before!

    I loved the book. I loved reading about a period of India's history that I had not read before. I liked the way the book made me feel uneasy with some of the characters they are unpredictable and complex like most of us.

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  • Posted October 25, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Disappointing

    This book could have benefitted immensely from the pen of a skilled editor. There is a reason that the language of poetry is generally limited to shorter works - most people can't pull it off well and consistently for 320 pages. Roy is one of those people.<BR/>The adult characters in the book are completely underdeveloped. The only ones that seemed real at all were the childhood Rahel and Estha.<BR/>I find it interesting that many reviewers refer to Roy's artistic foreshadowing; to me it was not so much foreshadowing as shouting. It was not difficult to predict the general details of the climax within the first few chapters.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2008

    genious

    a literary masterpiece!

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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