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Reads like Poetry

  • May 10, 2011

Click here to read the book quotes. I highly recommend reading the book quotes for a small insight into the beauty of The God of Small Things. 

I debated a long time over whether or not The God of Small Things deserved a +4 or a +5 rating. The difference between the two ratings seems rather arbitrary, but it's really not. Giving a read a +5 rating means it was perfectly written, and that it is a must read. Upon many days of reflection, I declare that this novel is in fact perfectly written, and it should be read by all even though it won't be understood by all, which is the unfortunate truth of many classic contemporary world literatures. This happens because many Western readers don't understand other cultures (the strangeness of things written or foreign words). This can cause many readers to feel isolated and disconnected from the narrative. To prevent this from happening, before reading The God of Small Things, one should have some knowledge/understanding of India, the Indian Caste System, and postcolonialism. With a little research and a group discussion with other readers, this book comes alive and leaves you wanting more from Arundhati Roy. 

The God of Small Things takes place in 1969 in the state of Kerala, on the southernmost tip of India. This is a turbulent time for India because of Marxist movements that are occurring, which threaten to overturn India's caste system. The workers are rebelling while the authority figures (police officers) continue to condone the status quo to keep certain Indians in their place. According to one news article, in 1968, "160 complaints were filed against the police for activities ranging from murder, torture, and collusion in acts of atrocity, to refusal to file a complaint." Even though "untouchability," as the lowest caste members are described, was officially banned in India in 1950, discrimination continues past that date, as demonstrated by the actions in the novel (which are semi-biographical) and by current events. Another website further elaborates how the caste system is especially present in India's rural areas. The statistics say that there are about 250 million Untouchables and "the United Nations estimates that there are 115 million child laborers and 300 million starving people in India, most of which are Untouchables." 

The setting is very important in the novel because it describes and defines these injustices (how the caste system tears people apart, even in one's family) as well as the influences of religion (traditional and Christianity) on the peoples. Without some knowledge of India's history and current affairs, the setting loses much of its significance.  

The setting is only one piece to a very complex story and plot. Because of constant shifts in time, it's difficult for the average reader to follow the narrative. The disjointed narrative is important, though, because Roy shows that time and history is not linear. Things that happen in our pasts can launch unforeseen complications in our lives, like throwing a stone in a pond and watching the ripples spread out from the origin point. All of history is connected, and it often repeats itself. Roy shows this and more. She forces the reader to stay alert. This isn't a "beach read novel." This is a piece of literature that asks the reader to step outside her or his comfort zone and take a glimpse into someone else's lives, in this case three main characters: 

  1. Rahel (girl) and Esthappen Yako (Estha): fraternal ("two-egg") twins 
  2. Ammu: their mother, born 1942. Married to "Baba" ("father": his real name is never given) and divorced. 

There are a slew of other important characters, but delving too deeply into them would spoil the story for any who desire to read this magnificent novel and be surprised. Here is a simple list of other characters without any spoilers compiled by Paul Brians: 

  • Baby Kochamma (born Navomi Ipe): Rahel and Estha's grandfather's sister--their grand-aunt. "Kochamma" is not a name, but a standard female honorific title. 
  • Sophie Mol ("Sophie girl"): the twins' cousin, daughter of their Uncle Chacko and Margaret Kochamma. Throughout the novel, "mol" is "girl" and "mon" is "boy." 
  • Margaret Kochamma: daughter of English parents, former wife of Chacko, then of Joe, mother of Sophie Mol. 
  • Mammachi (Shoshamma Ipe): blind grandmother of Rahel, Estha, and Sophie Mol, founder of the family pickle factory. "Mammachi" simply means "grandmother." 
  • Pappachi (Benaan John Ipe): late abusive husband of Mammachi. ("Pappachi: of course means "grandfather.") 
  • Chacko: son of Mammachi, divorced first husband of Margaret. 
  • Joe: second husband of Margaret, died 1969. 
  • Kochu Maria: "Little Maria": the tiny cook of the household. 
  • Larry McCaslin: Rahel's American husband. 
  • Velutha Paapen: Paravan untouchable around whom much of the action revolves. 
  • Vellya Paapen: his father. 

The story centers around the twins' lives and their relationships with those around them, mainly their family members and a few of the servants who work for their family. There are a few key events in the twins' childhoods that define who they become as adults, i.e. the visit to the movie theater, Sophie Mol's visit to India, etc. It's important to note that Ammu and her family come from money even though they don't have a lot left. They are high up on the social caste and interact with their Untouchable servants as little as possible. 

The plot is really complex with many stories being told simultaneously. The central one, however, is called "The Terror." To disclose what it is would spoil the journey Roy takes her readers on to discover "truths" about family and history. Needless to say, there are choices and decisions in the characters' lives that change who they become. 

The character development is intense and complex because of the time-shifts. The story begins twenty-three years after the main events with tons of flashbacks and flashforwards in the rest of the narrative. At the start of the novel, the twins are young, just children. At various points the reader glimpses them as adults, how their lives as children ended abruptly (the loss of innocence). Other family members change over the course of time, many becoming broken shells, ghosts of their former, lively, and carefree selves.  

Arundhati Roy's largest triumph with her character development is her ability to enter the mind of children without compromising their innocence or being condescending about childhood in general. She enters into their thinking in a way that few authors have ever been able to. She does not make them sentimental characters, but instead reveals fierce passions and terrors that bring the twins closer together even as it almost destroys them. These fierce passions and terrors live with them as adults. Some might even say their growth and maturity was stunted because of what happened to them as children. You will have to read more and discover the truth in Roy's magnificent language. 

Language is both the saving grace and often the most cited failing of this novel. Some describe Roy's writing as "poetry," which is how I view it. Others explain that her story lacked focus or that her writing techniques confused them, particularly some of the Salman Rushdean stylistic tricks such as capitalizing Significant Words and runningtogether other words. If this didn't make the reading a little slower for some, the Malayalam words and phrases she uses would do it for many others, although Roy provides contextual translations for those who are close and critical readers to spot these definitions when they are given. Basically, I can't stress enough how important it is to really READ this novel. Like any good poetry, one needs to take her or his time, process a little bit, and then come back for more. I highly recommend taking notes and even insist on multiple readings to truly understand the complexities of the story and language. This is when reading this book in a class or with other people would be helpful for one's understanding. I also highly recommend perusing the Arundhati Roy: The God of Small Things Study Guide after having read the book (hence the second reading recommendation). It's important to read it afterwards because there are many spoilers revealed in the study guide.  

There are a plethora of themes and motifs found in The God of Small Things. They vary from love, madness, hope, infinite joy, family relations, trust, and regret, to name just a few. They might read simply here, but they are complex and intertwine with all the characters from the twins to their Uncle Chacko to their little cousin Sophie Mol. Everyone is affected by the decisions made by a few. The themes should resonate with all readers, even if you have no experience with India's culture. Who hasn't loved so deeply that they would break all the rules? Just think of Romeo and Juliet. Love and tragedy go hand-in-hand when it comes to classic literatures. And it's not just romantic love discussed in The God of Small Things. Even Ammu's children don't feel they deserve to be loved by their mother and families. They are just never good enough...never white enough. 

Just like the themes and motifs, there are myriads of literary elements used. This book was discussed in an undergraduate postcolonial literature class taught by Sr. Aaron at Dominican University of California, and for good reason. Arundhati Roy is a literary genius. She uses traditional literary conventions, like metaphors, similes, sycophancy, alliteration, and more to make her writing lyrical and poetic. She also creates her own masterpiece language, inspired by other great authors like Rushdie. I would say only "inspired by" because she creates her own disjointed rhythms, her own language that is described as being "at once classical and unprecedented." Roy's book and writing is truly magical, weaving a story that few will ever forget. 

The message and purpose of Roy's story is multi-fold. First, she wanted to tell some of the story of her mother's life, who she dedicated the novel to. Paul Brians describes it as follows: 

Mary Roy is the author's mother, who struggled to raise Arundhati on her own while teaching in the rural village of Aymanam (called "Ayemenem" in the novel) in southwestern India, in Kerala State. Arundhati left home at age sixteen to study architecture in Delhi. 

Another reason for writing this novel was to give the readers some history about India, specifically Kerala, which is known for its relative freedom for women. Paul Brians warns in his Study Guide that Western readers should not read the female characters as being constrained. Instead, Roy depicts the women as having been hurt by male domination but constantly fighting and struggling against this dominance with a courage and assertiveness that gives hope to those who are oppressed. Although things can't always end happily, the characters keep fighting for what is right and praying that "The God of Small Things" will hear their prayers and change will take root. It only takes one person to make a difference in another's life, good or bad.  

The third and final reason for writing this novel was Roy was partly protesting the South Asian prudery which stands in the way of love, one such aspect being the Indian Caste System.  

I haven't read a novel as good as this one in a long time. The God of Small Things reminds me of readings from postcolonial classes, such as Heart of Darkness and many of V.S. Naipaul's works. This is a novel that I hope to teach someday, and it puts many other works that focus on a child's perspective to shame, simply inferior writing, such as Jack in Room 

Arundhati Roy is truly an amazing writer and storyteller. She was trained as an architect, yet she left this career to pursue writing, first as a production designer and then a writer of screenplays, two of which were made into films. Then, she wrote this masterpiece. As far as I can tell, this is her only novel, although she is reported to be working on her second. Even though she doesn't have another novel, she continues to write screenplays. Arundhati Roy is a social activist and feminist speaking out for various causes. She cares about the world and its people, especially those in her own country.  

Overall, my emotional reaction was tremendous. While reading this novel, I went up and down as if I were riding a roller coaster. When the book ended, I even cried, not from the tragedies that were described but from the passions of the characters and the love-- an all consuming love that is worth any sacrifice. There is a sense of hope that runs deeper than any of the family wounds. I couldn't imagine a reader not feeling something as they progress through this novel, even if it's annoyance that the book is forcing them to think. 

As I already stated, I recommend this book to everyone. It's a "must-read." I do recommend that younger readers wait until they are in college before attempting this novel purely because it is a complex piece of literature. Plus, much of the subject matter is rather depressing, and it might be difficult for a younger reader to get through it all. 

The God of Small Things is an important novel and everyone should read it because of the messages enclosed in its pages: equality, the affects of religion, and the importance of showing and sharing love with everyone in your life (such as your own family and children). These themes cross boundaries and many of the issues stop becoming just India's problems and reach across oceans as something all peoples can work on despite our differences. 

The most important thing I recommend to all those reading this novel is keeping some important resources nearby to help with your understanding. I recommend the following websites: 

  1. Arundhati Roy: The God of Small Things Study Guide (read after finishing the novel) 
  2. Arundhati Roy (read before starting the novel) 
  3. Indian Caste System (read before starting the novel)
  4. India's "Untouchables" Face Violence, Discrimination (read before starting the novel)
  5. Caste and The God of Small Things (read after or during the novel) 

There are many facts and research information available in this novel, but without a preliminary background and understanding about India and its people, this repertoire of knowledge will be lost on most readers. 

Get the most from this novel by putting in a little extra effort and work while reading it.

Reads like Poetry Reads like Poetry Reads like Poetry

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August 02, 2011
This is a very informative review on a subject which is not well covered in the West.
August 02, 2011
I agree, which is why I gave this book a +5. It's a must read, especially for Westerners. Thank you very much for reading my review, Joseph. I am very happy that it was informative!
June 06, 2011
Excellent review, informative without giving everything away. Sounds like a truly thought provoking and interesting read! :o) wishing you laughter
June 06, 2011
Thanks for much for the review comment and the ratings, @! I do try really hard not to give away major plot details in my reviews. I admit it was quite difficult in this one. I do hope you try to read it someday. I have a feeling you will enjoy it! Wish you laughter as well. :D
May 25, 2011
Great review, Adri! It's so great that you include the basic character breakdown and give the tip to readers to take their time to enjoy this book, it's definitely not one to be rushed through in one sitting laying on the beach. I also agree that it helps to read with others so that you can discuss it as you read. Thanks for the link and the review!
May 25, 2011
Glad the character breakdown helped! I know it helped with my own reading. Initially, I mixed up the names a lot. Thanks so much for taking the time to read my review. :)
May 25, 2011
Me too! I had to re-read it a few times just to get them straight :) Thanks for posting it!
May 25, 2011
Glad I wasn't alone! And, no problem! I'm getting ready to post another review soon too. Trying to get a review out every other week while I still have time, lol!
May 26, 2011
Me too- they take quite a bit of time and I'm thinking now that I don't have school or wedding, I can get some reviews and lists done :)
May 26, 2011
I hear you there! I'm trying to get as many done as possible before I start teaching. I'm not having a lot of luck, though. I'm too slow for my own good. When you get some stuff done, send me links. I'll be sure to read, rate, and comment on them. :)
May 11, 2011
Wow, Adrianna, what an in-depth review! Well, of course, this is an in-depth book :P It wasn't the easiest read and I definitely agree with taking notes and giving it multiple reads because it jumps around a lot. Plus the family relationships and the names take a bit to sink in. This was an intense and devastating read for me, but what an experience.
May 18, 2011
Yeah, I would say the language was the most difficult part of the novel for me. It took me a little bit to understand who was what and what each word meant. I agree-- it was an intense read. Thanks so much for reading my review on it, Debbie!
May 10, 2011
I agree with Will below. The subject matter of this sounds fascinating. I've always been sort of in love with Indian culture and have wanted to go there. It seems like such a wonderful, and occasionally horrid, place of contrasts. You have on the one hand a wealth of spirituality that is unrivaled by any other culture and yet you have the abysmal caste system, and on the other hand, you've got areas of the most extreme poverty and then areas where the wealthiest citizens live (and they're literally within a rock's throw from each other). Great review, Adri. I'll have to check this out at our library when I get the chance to read again.
May 10, 2011
Excellent summary, Sean! When/if you do read this, I would love to read your review. I'm curious as to how you will react to the writing style. I bet you will enjoy it!
May 10, 2011
sad that even without us knowing, humans tend to preserve the caste system, don't you think so?
May 10, 2011
We know that we're doing it. We just don't stop.
May 10, 2011
caste systems, filings, feminist, equality overtones....depressing themes....great start in the morning...good coffee, and reading this superb write up! It sort of reminds me of that woman political leader in Burma who was recently set free for some reason. Amazing how you make your book reviews so personal, Adri! Thanks for  this!
May 10, 2011
Hey Woo! (laughs) Yes, there are some really deep issues presented in this novel. I'm glad it reminded you of some current events. It's definitely a relevant book to what's happening today. I couldn't help but make this review personal because I enjoyed the novel so much. Thanks for reading and commenting on it, William!
May 10, 2011
I look at you as my mentor for writing book reviews and I am trying to improve on my writing because of your influence. I tend to be too 'detached' at times when I review movies.... :) coffee and your all I was missing was an omelet LOL!
May 10, 2011
And you are my mentor for writing film reviews, so we're even. ;) And, I can't believe you think you are detached from your writing! I read a lot of emotion in your film critiques. I had an energy drink and an omelet this morning, lol!
May 10, 2011
heh. You are so nice. I need to get more personal, my older reviews feel more analytical and a bit too 'brainy'. I decided to follow my heart more with my brain (whatever there is) leading the way.
May 10, 2011
lol, there's a time and place for analytical and brainy. I have plenty of reviews like that myself. I go with the flow and whatever fits the mood of what I'm writing. Are you going to go back and edit old reviews?
May 10, 2011
I agree. But I am never satisfied with my work. I am my most aggressive critic. LOL! nah, I am not changing them. They are a good reminders how I did and what I am now. I am even moving some old amazon reviews here soon, just for a laugh. LOL!
May 10, 2011
I'm just like you...never satisfied either, lol, which is why I take so long getting the reviews out there for all to read. Nice! Shoot me some of the links for your older Amazon reviews. Would love to read them. I should explore on Amazon and rate some of your reviews there too. Do you cross-post reviews from here to Amazon still?
May 10, 2011
I know, I just keep on editing and editing LOL! heh. you would laugh since they can be silly. I don't review in amazon anymore save for vine reviews. I stopped there in beginning of 2010....
May 10, 2011
I'm the same way. Editing is fun! Ah, ok! Well, maybe I will check out some of your vine reviews in the near future...or your older ones at least. :)
May 10, 2011
I actually have several of them saved as drafts here but I am having thoughts if I should post them without re-editing...LOL!
May 10, 2011
Would be interesting to read them as they were originally written. :)
May 10, 2011
Ok but don't laugh if they are silly....
May 10, 2011
Ok but don't laugh if they are silly....
May 18, 2011
I would never laugh at anything you wrote.
May 18, 2011
totally ok if you did...I like re-reading them just so I could laugh at how silly they were LOL!
May 18, 2011
I am not a very funny person. I take things seriously, especially writing, unless it is supposed to be funny.
May 18, 2011
I know....Ok, mayhap I'll post one of the sillier ones later. You know how much I like making fun of myself =) 
May 18, 2011
(laughs) Yes you do!
May 18, 2011
You are just so kind I was baiting you to make fun of me but you wouldn't....Aerin would've picked on me in a second! ;)
May 18, 2011
LOL! I'm either really boring or really nice. Just not the way I roll. :-P
May 18, 2011
yeah, you are just too nice. I bet if I said I was dumb and stupid you would disagree with me and you would defend me from myself LOL!
May 18, 2011
LOL!! Yes I would. :)
May 18, 2011
awww....Adri you are just one of nicest people in the internet.
May 18, 2011
....and probably everywhere else.
May 18, 2011
Aw! Thanks. I do try. I like being nice. :)
May 19, 2011
LOL!! Way to defend, Aerin! You tell him. ;)
May 19, 2011
Aerin, O_O Not that you're mean but you know exactly how to challenge me... like this O_O LOL! I like the abuse, but Adri won't do it even when I ask for it LOL!

Alright, now I finally have the two of you ganging up on me!!
May 19, 2011

May 19, 2011
ok, now where is my Vermonster at? I need some food therapy...LOL!
May 25, 2011
LOL! You two are funny! :D
May 25, 2011
you should check out the comment thread in my review on 'friendship' LOL!
May 25, 2011
I did! I thought it was hilarious! I was afraid to get caught up in your vortex, though, so I just read it without commenting, lol!
September 11, 2014
I just read it again. There is quite a bit of content here.
More The God of Small Things reviews
Quick Tip by . July 18, 2010
Without rehashing the plot -- I am a bit shocked this book won The Booker Prize. It's a haunting and sad tale told in an almost too cute, sing songy, back and forth in time way from the point of view of child -- but told in third person. It is a clever novel and does explore cultural elements, but never really digs deeply enough into the pathos she explores.
review by . March 29, 2001
This unique tale of childhood in India is written in the lyrical prose of an artist, whose vivid childhood scenes set the stage for a lifetime of heartbreak. The child's perception is beautifully wrought from the experience of Rahel, two-egg twin of her brother, Estha. Living on the outside edge of family acceptance, the children attempt to divine a cohesive explanation for the circumstances of their young lives and that of their mother, Ammu. Roy writes compelling dialogue, skillfully rendering …
review by . August 19, 2000
Without rehashing the plot -- I am a bit shocked this book won The Booker Prize. It's a haunting and sad tale told in an almost too cute, sing songy, back and forth in time way from the point of view of child -- but told in third person. It is a clever novel and does explore cultural elements, but never really digs deeply enough in the pathos she explores.
review by . February 26, 1999
You may be curious to read this award winner which has sold so well. But it is mostly all hype, and ultimately it is a difficult to read, disjointed novel. For anyone who is interested in India, Rohinton Mistry's "A Fine Balance" is a far superior novel, also an award winner, but delightfully readable.
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Adrianna Simone ()
Ranked #9
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About this book


In her first novel, award-winning Indian screenwriter Arundhati Roy conjures a whoosh of wordplay that rises from the pages like a brilliant jazz improvisation.The God of Small Thingsis nominally the story of young twins Rahel and Estha and the rest of their family, but the book feels like a million stories spinning out indefinitely; it is the product of a genius child-mind that takes everything in and transforms it in an alchemy of poetry.The God of Small Thingsis at once exotic and familiar to the Western reader, written in an English that's completely new and invigorated by the Asian Indian influences of culture and language.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


From Publishers 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...
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ISBN-10: 0060977493
ISBN-13: 978-0060977498
Author: Arundhati Roy
Genre: Literature & Fiction
Publisher: Harper Perennial
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