The God of Small Things
Written by Arundhati Roy and published in 1997, this prize winning novel is set in Roy's hometown of Aymanam, where Paradise Pickles still stands. The story covers the lives of a pair of twins who experience loss at an early age, and find redemption as adults. The story is not told in sequence; one scene may be from their childhood, the next as adults. Roy does an excellent job storytelling, though, as the reader never feels lost or bewildered with the tale. Roy's prose is fun to read; she deals with the darkest of content, mixed with light humor. (Click the book cover to go to Amazon.com to buy the book!)
With "the Heart of Darkness"
This story of one man's journey into a deep dark, evil jungle filled with savages and devoid of factual representation, written by Joseph Conrad, is often alluded to in this book. I guess India, too, is one of the dark places of the earth. By the way people are treated by others, especially the lower classes, one can easily draw many comparisons between the two.
With "The Tempest" pg 138
This work is often alluded to as well. To me, it represents a colonial education. Baby Kochamma displays her knowledge of it to differentiate herself from lower classes. It's a status thing to her, like everything else. Do all former English colonies also adore Shakespeare and the English Cannon so much that knowledge of them becomes social class?
With "The Sound of Music" pg 54
It's called "... an extended exercise in Anglophilia." Yep, the singing nun and her brood in Nazi Germany are featured as a movie the twins and their relatives take a trip to see. The twins love it, (Estha can't help but sing along, and Rahel has it practically memorized) but their uncle dismisses it as foreign.
With "The Jungle Book" pg 57
This is the book Ammu reads to the twins before bed. They enjoy the story greatly. They get excited when the man-cub is claimed as part of the pack. The twins have no father, only a divorced mother to watch after them, so the mother in the book who stands up so fiercely for the pale newcomer may have special significance for them.
With "Julius Ceasar" pgs. 49, 163, 260
More Shakespeare! The twins often joke around with it. One of my favorite times is when Estha says: "Et tu, Kochu Maria? Then fall, Estha!" (163) Baby Kochimma, (Kochu Maria) thinks he is making fun of her in a foreign language, instead of incorporating her into her adored Shakespeare's play.
Phil Donahue's show pg 85
"Being interrupted by Phil Donahue was of course entirely different from being interrupted by a subway rumble. It was a pleasure, and honor." Donahue represents a modern kind of sympathy which, although it pretends and intends to be an improvement over the old notions, is really just old wine in new bottles.
Popeye the Sailor man (dum dum) pg 94
This is repeated repeatedly. Estha is the little man, who lived in a caravan (dum dum). It happens so often, that I thought I'd mention it.
Macauley and the English Cannon:
"Macauley, who said that "a single shelf of a good European library is worth the whole native literature of India" has been paid back for his ignorant denigration of Indian literature; he has been pelted with masterpieces. His punishment has taken a form which he could not have imagined, the vivid prosperity of an Indian literature, and a Pakistani literature, written in Macauley's own language" (Wood).
"English writing has to learn, from India, how to go native in its own land" (Wood).
Between Salman Rushdie and Arundhati Roy:
Arundhati Roy is often compared with Salman Rushdie. Comments like, "This is the Best Indian book since "Midnight's Children" by Rushdie!" were often made about Roy's first book. She is often lumped in the same category, and scrutinized for similarities, like a little sister of someone famous. Here are a few of the things said:
(Midnight Children) " and Arundhati Roy's good and flawed The God of Small Things, which is a perfect child of Rushdie's, offer a picture of what Indian writing looks like today" (Wood).
"Rushdie is the reason for this kind of writing, which allows novelists to tell half-stories by presenting them as pungent pictures" (Wood).
"Roy is not as ideological as Rushdie, an not as magical-realist. She is essentially an extremely talented anarchist" (Wood).
About Arundhati Roy:
Born: November 24, 1961
mother: Christian woman from Kerala
father: Bengali Hindu tea planter, whom Roy barely knows and prefers not to speak about
Arundhati grew up in Aymanam, until she was 16 years old, when she ran away to live in a squatter's camp. She eventually attended the Dehli School of Architecture, and married a fellow student, Gerard Da Cunha. Four years later, the marriage ended and Roy took a job at the National Institute of Urban Affairs. A film director discovered her on the street, and she had a small role, but she got a scholarship to go to Italy to study architecture. While in Italy, Roy realized she was a writer and met her current husband. Together they wrote several TV scripts before Roy decided to focus on writing her book.
1997: God of Small Things is published to immediate acclaim, and wins the Booker Prize in England. Roy was the first Indian woman, and the first non-expatriate Indian to win the award.
1997: Also the 50th anniversary of India's independence from Britain.
Quotes from Arundhati Roy:
"The story of the Narmada valley is nothing less than the story of modern India. Like the tiger in the Belgrade Zoo during the NATO bombing, we've begun to eat our own limbs." (Roy as quoted in Kingsworth)
"A writer," (meaning novelist (fiction writer) rather than journalist) "has license to write things differently. .. As a writer, I have the license and the ability I guess, to move between feelings and numbers and technical stuff, and, you know, to tell the whole storyin a way which an expert doesn't seem to have the right to do." (Roy as quoted in Kingsnorth).
"People say to me, "oh, it's so wonderful that you're writing about real things, " and that it's a political thing to do, and I say, look to be in my position and not say anything is a hell of a political thing. You need to think politically, otherwise you'll be one of these people who says, "oh, this person's saying this and that person's saying that, and I'm confused." And I say, yeah, because you want to be confused." (Roy as quoted in Kingsnorth).
"There's no division on my bookshelf between fiction and nonfiction. As far as I'm concerned, fiction is about the truth" (Roy as quoted in Kingsnorth).
Quotes about Arundhati Roy:
"Arundhati Roy did not set out to be a 'political writer" (Kingsnorth).
"Arundhati Roy is tired. Tired of being who she is expected to be. Tired of being lauded and condemned in equal measure and at the same time. Tired of the way her country is going. Tired of having to explain herself" (Kingsnorth).
"She has nailed her colors to the mast. Arundhati Roy is that most unusual, and welcome, of animals: a writer who takes sides" (Kingsnorth).
"Now she sits, small, slight, quiet and cross-legged, on the floor of her New Dehli flat, and dares anyone to tell her how a novelist should behave" (Kingsnorth).
(after Roy wrote a criticism of nuclear weapons in India) "In India, you don't write that sort of thing if you don't want to make powerful enemies. And Roy did. The same politicians who had praised her only months before now condemned her for betraying her motherland. In a fever of nationalistic pride, Roy was savaged for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. As it turns out, she was only just warming up" (Kingsnorth).
About God of Small Things
"The great pleasure of The God of Small Things flows from its language, and its delight in verbal comedy" (Wood).
Arundhati play with words. One ways she does this is through repeated phrases. Some of the most often repeated are:
"A viable, dieable age."
"Little Man. He lived in a caravan. Dum dum."
(the God of Small Things) " is not just about small things, it's about how the smallest things connect to the biggest things - that's the important thing. And that's what writing will always be about for me I'm not a crusader in any sense"(Roy as quoted in Kingsnorth).
This book could be problematic for its depiction of abuse. But most of the controversy surrounding the book dealt with the Indian caste system, which, although its importance is denied, is still a sensitive subject in India. An interesting way to study the book would be to learn about the caste systems and their history first. Perhaps breaking up the class into castes for a week would provide interesting journal assignments. (Kind of like the famous "brown eyes, blue eyes experiment, eh? You could have one group be a higher caste, and then have a change of regime and invert the system so that the low castes are high and vice versa. This could also lead to interesting group discussion.)
Arundhati says, read my new book, "The cost of Living"! Did you know that a section of "God of Small Things" was published in the anthology "Mirrorwork: 50 years of Indian Writing, 1947-1997" edited by Salman Rushdie and Elizabeth West? Yeah, it was published by Henry Hold: New York in 1997, the same year my whole book was published. It's a nice anthology, check it out!
Kindsnorth, Paul. "I wish I had the guts to shut up." Ecologist (Sept. 2000): 29-33
Roy, Arundhati. "God of Small Things." Harpercollins: New York, 1998
Walsh, William. "Indian Literature in English." Longman: New York, 1990.
Wood, James. "An indelicate balance." New Republic v217n26 (Dec. 29, 1997): 32-36