Convoluted, atmospheric, tragic.
About The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy: The year is 1969. In the state of Kerala, on the southernmost tip of India, fraternal twins Esthappen and Rahel fashion a childhood for themselves in the shade of the wreck that is their family. Their lonely, lovely mother, Ammu (who loves by night the man her children love by day), fled an abusive marriage to live with their blind grandmother, Mammachi (who plays Handel on her violin), their beloved uncle Chacko (Rhodes scholar, pickle baron, radical Marxist, bottom-pincher), and their enemy, Baby Kochamma (ex-nun and incumbent grandaunt).
When Chacko's English ex-wife brings their daughter for a Christmas visit, the twins learn that Things Can Change in a Day. That lives can twist into new, ugly shapes, even cease forever, beside their river ...
My two centsSo here we are! It's Diversiverse once again and I admit to using this event to give me an extra push to review books that deserve to be read and reread by many others. This is one such book; it is set in 1960s India and drives home the point of the pervasiveness of the caste system to contemporary times.
What I liked:Universal themes. The crux of this book: its themes of struggle, love, and how the truth eventually comes to light. Set in modern-day India, throw in a touch of the immigrant persona and a tragedy of immense proportions that stems from the seemingly innocuous.
This is such an unusual book for so many reasons that I didn't quite know what to do with it. It gave me a major headache the first read through, especially for about half of the book. I was constantly bewildered by the plot which shifted from present to past, was alternately mesmerized-then-annoyed by the verbosity, weirded out by the twin "thing" going on, and felt it was generally was just all over the place. Maybe it was because I was also reading this in bits and pieces that each time I'd pick up the book I had a hard time recalling what was happening. But by the second half, I was finally starting to appreciate the themes explored and I knew I had to wipe the slate clean and reread with the intent of finally reviewing it.
It's a love story. It's about fraternal twins sharing a very special bond. It's about family. It's about the struggle to go beyond what life deals us. It's about grief and heartbreak. This is a story where the plot only comes together after reading the entire thing. For me it took reading the entire thing twice to realize its simplicity in its tragedy.
(I speak in rather cryptic terms for a reason. I can't bear for anyone to expect what will happen when they start reading this.)
A taste of India, both traditional and modern. It's always fascinating to learn about other cultures and this gives readers a taste of exotic India with a heavy dose of reality. Depicted is the poverty, the desire for many to better their lives by getting an education elsewhere, and the sobering fact that the caste system remains entrenched in society.
Memorable characters. Oh Baby Kochamma! Oh Baby, you are an amazing in-your-face character and this book needs you! And you, dear reader, need to make her acquaintance!
Poetic lines. There are certain times when the Roy's words take on a magically poetic quality. I felt like her words had a rhythm that lulls, woos, and even breaks your heart. Consider:
Perhaps it's true that things can change in a day. That a few dozen hours can affect the outcome of whole lifetimes. And that when they do, those few dozen hours, like the salvaged remains of a burned house---the charred clock, the singed photograph, the scorched furniture---must be resurrected from the ruins and examined. Preserved. Accounted for. Little events, ordinary things, smashed and reconstitutred. Imbued with new meaning. Suddenly they become the bleached bones of a story.
I disliked:What just happened? I already mentioned that the plot was confusing and felt convoluted when I first started. But it all became crystal clear as this non-linear narrative came to its tragic conclusion. If you're struggling with the first part, have patience, keep at it and clarity shall come.
Verdict: A devastating family secret is finally revealed in this tragic tale of struggle, love and grief set in India. A non-linear and poetic quality of a narrative, this award-winning novel has the power to intimidate you ... or entrance you. I hope it's the latter.
This was my read for 2015 Diversiverse!