Collected Works: Literature
The God of Small Things
by Arundhati Roy
It is June, and Ayemenem is ripe with life. In this Indian village, creepers burst and spill, tapioca fences bloom, and the walls of an old house bulge around the waist. When the rain falls, it comes down with force, like ‘silver ropes slammed into loose earth’. The environment seems to possess a will of its own. Here, nature plays an active part not only in the formation of the landscape, but also in shaping the existence of those who call it home.
The God of Small Things tracks the lives of Estha and Rahel, fraternal twins separated from the age of seven to thirty-one. Upon their reunion, the destinies of both characters become governed by a web of ‘love laws’, introduced in the years while they were parted. ‘Edges, Borders, Boundaries, Brinks and Limits have appeared’, and they must grapple with the consequences. We witness a series of tragic events, rising from the entrapment and forbidden romances that blossom within the confines.
The language employed throughout is carefully tied to the salient theme of crossing frontiers. The prose replicates and reinforces the caste system that provides the work’s contextual scaffolding, and that encroaches repeatedly on the siblings’ family life. But the narrative rejects linearity, opting for a fragmented form that parallels the breaching of rules. The first chapter describes both the twins’ birth and their reunion, adding to the sense of disjointed identity.
Visible beneath the novel’s many layers of love and trauma, a political seed is being sown. Arundhati Roy unearths deep-rooted prejudices that prove difficult to rebury. By writing a book centred on prohibited relationships, the author risks exposing herself to the same scorn that her characters face. Yet, while they are bound by restrictions, she breaks free from them. By cutting down the tangled vines that climb up Ayemenem’s walls, The God of Small Things reveals the societal structures hidden behind the greenery.
Words by Sophia Martin-Pavlou
More to discover
You can find an excerpt from The God of Small Things on Amazon here, and read an interview with Arundhati Roy by Reena Jana for Salon. Following the book's release, Peter Popham wrote an article for The Independent about how it may change Kerala, the Indian state in which The God of Small Things is set.
Academic articles on the book available online include the following: Joëlle Célérier-Vitasse on the blurring of frontiers (here), Mirosh Thomas on the politics of idleness (here), and Shreya Singh on transgression in The God of Small Things and Nuruddin Farah's novel Secrets (here).
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