Some of us like to swear on their beliefs and allow intransigence to define their actions. The truth likes the muddled path, thriving in its various shades. Books are meant to essentially challenge our comfort and deliver us from preconceived ideas, bringing us closer to our own vulnerability. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy is about the thick layer of humanity we seek after in every human being. We are permanently striving to make sense of the behavior of those around us and the book is but an example of the way history itself influences minor decisions and choices. Caught in between our own natures and the pulsating world around us, the truth shrinks to the needs and whims of outer forces.
The book is about a pair of seven-year-old twins, Estha and Rahel, living with their divorced mother, Ammu, their uncle Chako, their grandmother and their great-aunt in Ayemenem, Kerala. The family run a pickle business and belong to the Syrian Christian caste. All characters in the book are denied happiness and briefly get a taste at life's mysteries and small treasures before tragedy strikes them all and their fates are sealed. Chako's ex-wife Margaret comes for a visit to India bringing their young daughter, Sophie Mol. The little girl's death condemns the twins and throws them at the mercy of the other family members who play them according to their interests. They end up separated and grow apart to indefinite outcomes.
The story tells itself like a river flows -rapidly at peak tense moments, slowly like the touch of a lover as it basks its banks in layered narrative. Language is the defining aspect of it, with rhythmical comparisons and dainty tales, striking a frail, yet vivid, balance between past and present, casting a long shadow on the future, revealing enough to tease the senses and question the mind. The book depicts a raw India, torn by caste fights and challenged by Communism, a mixture of heathen and sacred, a spellbound land of spiritual trials shadowed by child abuse, violence, corporation greed, tourism, humiliation and corruption.
There is also some damned love story between a disgraced woman and an inferior man. Their organic connection, the way their eyes speak and their senses riot, is beyond the boundaries set by History and Humanity alike. It is ancestral and sensuous, infused with breathtaking pain and beauty. And much to its ill-fated course, it renders an acute complexity, mainly due to the writer's clarity of style. Also, the book brings forward some memorable characters such as the blind Mammachi, a violin-playing grandma who runs the family business after the death of her abusive husband. Baby Kochamma, the great-aunt, is prisoner to her own unrequited love for a Catholic priest to whom she bestowed her entire life. The love she did not receive, slowly deprived her of any other shred of love she could have given to another human being.
The style is at times ostentatious and precious, a challenge for an unprepared, yet curious, reader who will find himself/herself taken aback by the organic throbbing of language that has a way of accommodating the veins of any reader. Alongside all other merits, you are bound to stay with the richness of the book and the perils of over-loving at the mercy of History. Such concept might be unfamiliar to a reader born under felicitous times, yet there are still many parts of the world where love is shaped by the constraints of class, caste, territory, religion, racism, and history.