The god of small things

by Arundhati Roy

Hardcover, 1997




New York : Random House, c1997.


The story of an Indian family during the 1969 Communist disturbances in Kerala province. It is told through the eyes of a boy and his sister who are the children of a rich rubber planter. Politics, family drama, illicit love. A debut in fiction.

Media reviews

If Ms. Roy is sometimes overzealous in foreshadowing her characters' fate, resorting on occasion to darkly portentous clues, she proves remarkably adept at infusing her story with the inexorable momentum of tragedy. She writes near the beginning of the novel that in India, personal despair ''could
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never be desperate enough,'' that ''it was never important enough'' because ''worse things had happened'' and ''kept happening.'' Yet as rendered in this remarkable novel, the ''relative smallness'' of her characters' misfortunes remains both heartbreaking and indelible.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member BCCJillster
I just finished THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS and wow. It turned out to be one of the most impressive reading experiences I've had. Quite near 100 Years of Solitude in dazzling impact. And a villain close to Ivy (from Lost in the Stars) in ugly manipulation with dire consequences. You definitely have to
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a) be in the mood for it, b) love to read for the language more than speed of plot resolution, c) be ready to open some inner part of you. As with 100 Years, you have to put your mind on cruise control and just go with the flow.

The language is the star: it's lush, plush, inventive, organic. She'll set up a description of a thing, tag it with a catch phrase, and then use it to represent the extended description later and throughout. So you feel privy to a private language, as between twins who instantly understand each other from fragments or made up words. But you're on the inside. Or she will repeat phrases like part of a melody. It's very hard to explain but it's so inventive yet natural. You begin to wonder why we don't speak this way. I think bits of this book will stick with me for a very long time; it's a shame she hasn't written any other novels.
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LibraryThing member moonstormer
This was a book that upon finishing I wanted to start reading it from the beginning all over again. This was a touching, beautifully written book that unfolds in a slow, out of order manner. The first couple chapters were a bit confusing just for this reason, but as the story came into focus, it
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was captivating and enthralling. Roy weaves the story in a way that captures the emotion and the moment without taking away from the power of the story. At times the descriptions were a bit too much for me, but the writing was so beautiful and the story so amazing that it was well worth the read. I highly recommend it!
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LibraryThing member browner56
This is a book of remarkable contrasts. It contains some of the most moving and beautifully written passages that I have read in quite awhile, but it also tells a heart-breaking story in which not one single character emerges unscathed by the events.

Rahel and Estha are fraternal twins growing up
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in the Kerala state of India. Their world is torn apart at the age of seven when their cousin Sophie Mol, visiting from England after the death of her step-father, dies tragically but quite accidentally. The twins are manipulated into helping implicate Velutha, an “untouchable” who has been having an affair with their mother Ammu, in Sophie Mol’s accident. They observe the police brutally murder Velutha—for violating the rigid caste system more than anything else—and Ammu sent away in disgrace to protect the family’s social standing. Rahel and Estha never really recover from these traumas, as we learn from the sad way in which they reunite 24 years later.

This novel, which won the Booker Prize in 1997, is justifiably renown throughout the world but not without its flaws. It is over-written in parts and the author’s use of foreshadowing—we know the fates of both Sophie Mol and Ammu shortly after the book begins—can be distracting. Nevertheless, Roy has created a compelling and unforgettable world in which themes such as politics, social structures and discrimination, and the nature of love are woven together brilliantly. She definitely has captured the mood and spirit of a time and place that are foreign to most of us and I enjoyed experiencing that world for a little while.
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LibraryThing member ThatsFresh
I hated this book. Please don’t read it. I don’t know why everyone loves it. What’s to love? In my English class, we had to read the same book with a partner, and have a discussion about it in front of the class when we were done. I missed the day we picked partners and ended up pairing up
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with my teacher.
I went through the entire book hating it, being bored to death and getting utterly confused (which rarely happens to me). There’s a ton of characters, many of whom are faceless and have no personality and don’t grow at all during the story. Tons of stuff happens, none of it captivating, or understandable.
The big climactic ending is based around something that’s not even brought up until 20 pages before the end. I didn’t care about any of the characters. I wondered why the brother and sister had sex with each other. What did the concession stand guy getting a hand job from the little boy mean? Loss of innocence? I guess? It couldn’t mean anything else. It was never brought up for the rest of the book. And the little boy looses his innocence later, when the “pre-climatic” ending. This book just sucked.
I was sure my teacher was going to enjoy it, since she had said she liked this author’s previous stuff. But I was overjoyed to discover that she and I both hated it. When we had our discussion in front of the class, we both got to vent our ideas why this book was so…bad. She offered the idea that the author was just trying to squeeze in too many topics into one book (sex, racism, death, rape, love, betrayal, family, war, etc…) and I agree with her.
There are soooo many better books out there. Please, read one of them and don’t let this book come near you.
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LibraryThing member lriley
I liked this Booker prize winning novel a lot. On finishing I immediately put Roy in my favorites.

Probably not a lot I can add here that hasn't been said before as I see it already has 110 reviews here. Roy's control of her material is superb--she very carefully teases out her plot almost until the
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end where she climaxes her story with a lot of impact. Anyway it is written with much verve and the conclusion is riveting. I would highly recommend it.
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LibraryThing member MarieAlt
I'm glad it's over.

Not that this is a bad book, exactly, but it's not one I could connect to.

First, the good. The language is incredible. This is a book of prose poetry, an extended fiction.

And honestly, that's really all I could like about it. The problem with poetry, at least in books, is that it
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can be distancing. In a few scenes it finally brought the characters' feelings into focus, but mostly it studied them as objects, and pulling back that far makes it difficult to sympathize with, difficult to see as real.

The focus is also odd, in the story-telling sense, mostly because there doesn't seem to be one. What is the point of this novel? Why was it written? Velutha and Ammu took over the end, but both the beginning and up to chapter 13, and then the last few pages were about the twins. It was like being asked to consider too many things at once.

Roy did, at times, really show her world, that is, India circa 1969, fairly well. Sometimes I could see it. But the setting didn't feel integrated, other than the story couldn't take place anywhere else. So why didn't it work?

Intellectually, I can think of many reasons why this story should have worked. But as a novel, it couldn't sell itself to me as a reader, only as an academic. Which I didn't even realize until I started writing this review. Now that I think back, I wish I did like it. I want to have liked it. But I just couldn't connect, like drowning.
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LibraryThing member bookworm12
I really wanted to like this one. In fact, when I started the book and it was incredibly slow going, I decided that no matter what, I was sticking with it to the end. At times it felt like I was trying to run on a beach, the faster I tried to read the more exhausting it was. The book is set in
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India and tells the story of a set of twins, one male, one female and their complicated family.
My problem with the book lies mainly with the structure. It jumps back and forth in the timeline with no real warning. First we learn about the twins as adults, then as kids, then about their mother’s life as a young woman, then about her relative’s childhood, etc. It’s hard to follow where you’re at in the tale and whose story is being told if you have to pick it up and put it down a lot.
The names made it more difficult as well, though that’s not the author’s fault. I wasn’t sure whether some of the names, like Aleyooty Ammachi, Velutha and Estha, were masculine or feminine at first. I figured it out quickly, but it was one more element to juggle.
The novel feels incredibly ambitious. It deals with India’s political climate, the caste system, cultural and ethical taboos, molestation, religion, family dynamics, incest, guilt. I feel like it might have been more powerful if the story was a bit more focused on a smaller number of issues.

I will say that my favorite part of the book was the descriptive passages. The author has a beautiful way of phrasing things….

“Margaret Kochmma’s tiny ordered life relinquished itself to this truly baroque bedlam with the quiet gap of warm body entering a chilly sea.”

…but that beauty wasn’t enough to make it work for me. I’d love to hear someone’s opinion on this one that’s familiar with Indian culture. I wonder if some aspects would have worked better for me if I knew the culture better.
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LibraryThing member bookcrazed
She asks an impertinent and haunting question: Why are there rules about who to love and how to love them?
LibraryThing member senafernando
It is a very original book and definitely worth reading, but it has serious faults. It is told from the point of view of two young children (twins). The author is merciless in her criticism of the adults who mis-treat the children. This criticism extends to the Indian middle middle class. It is,
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however, impossible to believe that all or even most members of this class are as hard-hearted as those in the book. The author should have created some balance by introducing a few characters who speak up on behalf of the children. As she has not done so, the novel comes across as an angry statement, but ultimately unsatisfactory as art.
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LibraryThing member readingwithtea
On the one hand, this is magnificent. The writing is astonishing – “as though his body had the power to snatch its senses inwards (knotted, egg-shaped), away from the surface of his skin, into some deeper more inaccessible recess” (which I actually remember from a mock GCSE exam I was set at
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some point – I recognised the passage in the book!) and Roy has dreamed up an appropriately startling set of circumstances and characters. I’ve never been to India, but I hope that her description is true to the original, because she manages to capture specific images so clearly and in a manner which foreigners can understand.

But I felt disappointed by this 1997 Booker prize winner – there was no semblance of a plot, just anecdotes and episodes back and forth over a century span. I was annoyed by the characters – not one was “normal”; not one really made sense. Something which also struck me as unnecessarily amateurish was the description of one of the main characters – from the author photo on the inside cover, it was transparently autobiographical, which I found lazy. Some of the plot elements (an episode of child abuse, an episode of incest, alcoholic husbands all over the place) seem clichéd, in that they seem to turn up in every book I read!

I wish I’d enjoyed this more – from the reputation of the book, I feel like I must have missed something – but really I was very surprised by the success of the novel given my poor reaction to it.
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LibraryThing member kairosdreaming
At 321 pages this book took me a whole week to read when it should have only been a night. I could only bring myself to read a chapter at a time it was so tedious to get through.

It takes a brother and sister, twins, and jumps back and forth through their life. Sometimes it veers into a little
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background of the side characters but overall it is about Rahel and her brother Estha. When they are younger the tale is about the visit of their cousin Sophie Mol and her subsequent death. So much of the book is leading up to her death that when it finally happens it is really quite anticlimactic and doesn't even grace a full page of the book.

On the other side, one of the un-touchables frequently mentioned in the book has his beating and death graphically described for some time and the sex scene between him and the twin's mother is almost the whole chapter of the last book. Neither of which alludes to the rest of the story as a whole.

While Roy is lauded for her writing, I found that she used a few brilliant "literary" phrases; over and over and over and over. To the point where I kept feeling like I was reading the same chapter again and again. If I never hear or see the words "Puff" and "Two-egg Twins" again I will be exceedingly happy, as she seemed to use them on almost every page.

As far as the plot of the book I felt that the characters were uninteresting or connect-able. It felt like you kept reading to go nowhere in the story.

Overall I just didn't like the book. I know that many people do but my thought is that just because it is an important social issue, it doesn't make the book worth reading. Those social issues could be better explored through better writing.
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LibraryThing member omame
I still can't decide what I think about this book- it is a wonderful story and Arundhati Roy is a very clever writer, but I her style isn't quite to my liking. It's a little too choppy and too many capitalizations. Still, there were sentences and passages that were absolutely gorgeous, and I liked
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how well the grit and indecency mingled so effortlessly with the beauty and poetry. It was an interesting story, but somehow I felt like I never broke its surface.
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LibraryThing member ValNewHope
I disliked the writing style, and the fact that the book reveals major plot incidents, then fills in details. It would have been an effective device except that it was done constantly, for every story line. I found the repeated descriptions (Fountain in a Love-in-Tokyo) annoying, the use of
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undefined foreign terms distracting, and the capitalized phrases In The Middle of Sentences for emphasis overdone. The characters, with the exception of the twins and Velutha, are not sympathetic. Not a good read in my opinion.
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LibraryThing member s_mcinally
I found this book a struggle, left me with no greater impression than annoyance at having bought it so compelled to finish it.
LibraryThing member PaintedFinches
I've never read anything like The God of Small Things before. The words, the phrases, the structure - all fresh and alive. After reading such magnificent prose, I feel like my writing has changed. I feel like I'm no longer bound by the usual, common sense rules of writing. In this, Arundhati Roy is
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a genius.

Paragraph by paragraph, the story is stunning and beautiful. I felt transformed into a child again, where words run together and ordinary things have extraordinary meanings. The composition of the novel was unlike anything I've encountered, or even imagined was possible.

It's as if Arundhati Roy wrote the story chronologically on a deck of playing cards, then threw them in the air and constructed the book as she gethered the cards in her hands. The tale is out-of-order, and not in the usual way. While reading, I remained in awe of this new kind of storytelling. At the same time, though, I often managed to get lost and had to turn back a few pages to find my way again. What makes this story brilliant also makes it difficult and sometimes exhausting.

Another interesting aspect of the writing is that you know the outline within the first chapter. There is no suspense for what is coming, but rather how it comes. The reader is taken back and back again to the same events, but is given more knowledge and detail with each revisit. I would almost say that this is a novel best read a second time.

Rating this book is difficult. I feel like it should be read for the extraordinary language and unique construction rather than for pure leisure. It is a must-read if you're a writer or aspiring writer, but probably okay to skip if you aren't.
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LibraryThing member baswood
Arundhati Roy's family live in the southern Indian state of Karela where this book is based. It is a place of waterways, lakes, and rivers in semi tropical countryside but with the press of humanity never very far away. Back in the 1970's I spent six months travelling round India and Karela was one
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of my favorite places and so reading this excellent novel brought back huge memories for me.

The story is told in fractured time-spans. The reader is aware from early on that this is a tragic tale of a family who have been destroyed by events that have spiralled out of their control. Everyone is damaged. Nobody can escape their fate and it is fate that is the real star of this book. Politics, the caste system, family rivalries, the striving to get ahead all serve to bend and break Roy's characters as they struggle against their destiny. This is no melodrama but a tragedy that reverberates and encompasses a country and people that are fighting to come to terms with the modern world

Roy's story is told in a magnificent prose style that for much of the time reads like poetry, but with an impish and very Indian wordplay that kept surprising me with its wit and playfulness. Estha one of the twins central to the story has been so traumatised by events that he refuses to speak and Roy brilliantly evokes his state of mind comparing it with the brooding landscape by her use of alliteration:

"Once the quietness arrived it stayed and spread in Estha. It reached out of his head and enfolded him in its swampy arms..... it sent its stealthy, suckered tentacles inching along the insides of his skull, hoovering the knolls and dells of his memory."

Fine writing indeed and then we have examples of typical Indian notices and public signs, this is seen in the airport carpark:

"For V D Sex Complaints contact Dr O. K. Joy"

The brutal police are described as "Hairy fairies with lethal wands" and the sign in the police station says:


There is so much to enjoy in this powerful intelligent novel
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LibraryThing member Rincey
I think this was another book that failed to live up to all the hype. It took a lot of effort for me to actually get through it, and I feel like it wasn't worth all that work. I'm not a fan of the writing style and I felt confused by some of the minor characters and basically the point of having
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them in the story. Just not my book I guess.
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LibraryThing member SqueakyChu
Rahel and Esthappen are dizygotic twins, born of two eggs but of one soul. In Kerala, India, the twins' mother Ammu is raising them with the help of the twins' grandmother Mammachi, their great-aunt Baby Kammachi, and their uncle Chako. At the beginning of the story, Chako's young daughter Sophie
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Mol was found dead. From her funeral, the story moves back and forth in time to reveal the circumstances of her death and how someone that the twins loved by day and Ammu loved by night tore the family apart.

At first, The God of Small Things is impossible to absorb. Don't despair. Persist! Push forward until the story grabs you! The author's writing might seem fragmented and annoying at first. Later, when you figure out the action, the writing becomes lyrical. It has a beautiful rhythm and sound to it. This book might not be for everyone, though. My husband never made it past the first page! He kept repeating "It was just the language. I couldn't get through it. I couldn't read it." If you're willing to make it into the second chapter, I think you'll gladly make it through the whole story.
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LibraryThing member maryreinert
What takes place in this story is gripping; however, I found it very difficult to read. Many times I almost put it down and then the next chapter would totally capture my attention. I am so glad that I did finish it.

The capitalization, sentence structure, Indian words, backward spelling, etc. just
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diverted my focus on the book rather than adding to it. For some readers, this might help portray images, feelings, etc. For me it was just confusing. And would someone tell me what Ammu lost when she lost her "locusts stand I"??? This phrase occurs several times and I realize that is what the twins are hearing, but I just couldn't get it. This is just typical of so many of the confusing elements.

I have read several wonderful novels set in India lately (Inheritance of Loss, for example), however, I felt that what some call Roy's extraordinary narration, I found to be just gimicky and distracting.
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LibraryThing member buoyread
Have you ever had a dream in which everything was almost too real, you could not quite believe it when you have to wake up?

That was exactly how I would describe this book. The narration is startlingly vivid, that I can almost say I was with Rahel and Estha the whole time, crossing the river with
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them, listening to them make plans in the pickle factory, carrying their boat above our heads. Albeit slow, the story builds up to paint a big picture from the seemingly small things that the twins and their family encounter. Every single event is explored, every minute detail a metaphor. The writing draws a fine line between the well-drawn and the verbose. It was like gossiping with housewives - telling you a story in a non-linear way with exhausting description, that you always end up asking them to hurry up already and get to the juicy parts, only realizing that to fully appreciate the punchline, every inch of the story has to be exposed.

But unlike gossiping housewives, the author exhibits finesse and intelligence with the way she dealt with the story. Seen through the eyes of the young two-egg twins, their childish wisdom demonstrates an innocent, but not oversimplified, view of themselves, their family and their home. The author provides a credible portrait of two children amidst familial and social struggles that cause them to grow up unspeaking (Estha) and unfeeling (Rahel).

Each character's personalities are also very well-accounted for, that one can empathize with Ammu's plight, laugh at Chacko's quirks, and loathe Baby Kochamma with alarming intensity. Aided with realistic imagery, not just once did I find myself touching my feet at the mention of Baby Kochamma's edematous ones, disgust at the OrangedrinkLemondrink man; I even found myself singing with Estha while inside the Abhilash Talkies. They were almost real I expected a crowd to shush me when I sang.

From my point of view, this is a rediscovery of the trauma that the twins suffered while growing up, and they remembered it through the small things seemingly insignificant, but grew to be the cornerstone of their pain. The pain that in the self-centeredness of childhood, they claimed to be their doing, but with the passing time and the maturity of their minds, they understood that it was not their fault, and they were given their chance to grieve for their loss. Although some would object at the turn of events in the end, I myself could not complain, especially as I am not the one keeping the 'Love Laws,' "That lay down who should be loved. And how. And how much."
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LibraryThing member sweetdissident
Fabulously inventive imagery & word usage. Poignantly written epic spanning cultures, classes, generations. A gut-wrenching look at racism, revolution, and love despite both. Riveting writing.
LibraryThing member austenheroin
This is my favorite book. It never ceases to move me, and every time I read it I discover something new.
LibraryThing member tututhefirst
The winner of the Booker Prize in 1997, this exquisite novel about women's role and lives in India in the 1960's and onward, is part of an ongoing series we are reading at our library showing the roles and stories of women in a variety of cultures. This one blew us all away both from the story
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itself, and from the pure beauty of the language.

The story of a multi-generational family features a grandmother who manages a Pickle factory (actually what we think of as chutney), who is almost completely blind, who plays the violin, and who endures incredible beatings from her husband every night after he retires and has nothing to do. It is only after their son Chacko returns to the area having been divorced from his English wife and threatens his father with dire consequences that the old man stops beating his wife. Mammachi (the grandmother), while she certainly doesn't like being beaten, doesn't seem to feel there is anything out of the ordinary about it, and certainly doesn't feel empowered herself to end the beatings.

Then there is the daughter Ammu, divorced mother of the "two-egg" twins Rahel and Estah, who engages in an illicit affair with an untouchable, a man adored by the children. She has not given the twins a last name because she is considering going back to her maiden name, but feels between her father and her abusive husband, there's not much to choose from and so doesn't want to be associated with either.

There's another auntie who converted to Roman Catholicism so she could be close to a priest for whom she had fallen, even going so far as to enter a convent. When she realized he was not going to leave the priesthood and marry her, she leaves the convent, returns to the family home, and adds to the general mayhem. Religion doesn't seem to play a major role in her life and she is livid when she discovers the good Father has left the RC priesthood, converted to hinduism, and taken a hindu wife.

The story actually opens with a funeral. Sophie "Mol", Chacko's daughter, and her English mother have come for a visit at Christmas time. Sophie Mol drowns, and the story starts with her funeral and progress backwards and forwards from there. The time line is somewhat difficult to follow at first, but the lyricism of the words strung together and made up with perfect precision to describe a thought makes the reader forget any problem with story line. This is a book that belongs in the library of every serious lover of literature. It's one I certainly plan to read again, and again. In fact, I want to push aside all my other scheduled and waiting TBRs and sink into a cozy chair and read this one again. As a cultural exposè it is excellent. As an all you can eat buffet of exquisite language, it's indescribable.
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LibraryThing member raphaelmatto
Ignore the story. Read it for the poetry and the love between the twins. It's got that loose messy author's first book feeling -- in a good way!
LibraryThing member turtlesleap
I suspect that this book would be more appreciated on a second reading but I will never know. Roy's work is more a dark lyric than a straightforward story, and it requires a little patience to quit obsessing about how it all "comes out" and focus on the unfolding of the experience. Her ability to
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convey the sights, sounds, smells and texture of India is remarkeable and her use of the language is always intriguing; often brilliant. Her ability to convey a sense of horror, as in the scene when Estha is sexually molested by the "orangedrink lemondrink man" is very compellilng. Perhaps my problem with the book stemmed from the fact that the bleakness seemed unredeemed by a single shaft of light. I put the book aside, after finishing the last page, with a sign of relief and a certainty that I would never read this one again. It was, in many ways, a brilliant work, but I would recommend it only with reservations.
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