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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The God of Small Things (1997) by Arundhati Roy


Book Review
The God of Small Things  (1997)
 by Arundhati Roy

  The God of Small Things was THE break out international literary fiction hit of 1997-1998.  Roy won the Booker Prize- unusual for a debut novel and the first non-expatriate Indian author to win the award.  Plus, you know, she's a woman.   Last summer she finally published her follow-up, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, which promptly failed to make the Booker short list.   I'm pretty sure the American release was a sales flop.  That makes her a candidate for the biggest one-hit wonder of late 20th century literature.  I have no problem with one hit wonders- better one hit than no hits at all, that is what I say.

  The God of Small Things is set in Kerala state in India.  It's a not unfamiliar locale for Indian novels, since the area has a hugely diverse population including ancient communities of Syrian Christians, Jews and Portuguese.   This makes it an inviting location for ambitious Indian authors looking for a draw for non-Indian readers, and The God of Small Things makes good on that promise by describing the Syrian Christian community. Like many novels set in India, I find myself going to Wikipedia just to confirm the truth of these exotic "Western" religious communities inside India.

  The plot, which zigs and zags back and forth across time, is not particularly inventive, with it's theme of forbidden love in cast conscious India, but Roy's execution is dazzling, and her characters multi-dimensional.  The theme of twins, so prominent in fiction across the developing world, is important here and of course, as for almost every novel set in India, India itself is a major draw.  I have to say...reading fiction about India makes me very much NOT to want to visit the place, which I think is unusual, but perhaps a testament to the realism of the authors who emerged in the 80's and 90's.


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