I’ve decided one of the things I want to do this year is to read more literature by writers from countries other than Canada, the US, and the UK. India is an easy choice for me because I’m so fascinated with the country, and I’d often heard of Arundhati Roy’s novel The God of Small Things, so I decided to start here. And it was certainly an interesting place to start.
I’m still not sure what to say about this novel. It is certainly very beautifully written and very intriguing. The setting is one that’s unfamiliar to me — it’s set in Kerala, India, mostly in the late 1960s (though a portion of it takes place many years later), among a community of Syrian Christians — a group whose existence I knew of but didn’t know a lot about.
The story centres around a pair of twins, Rachel and Esthappen, whose already fractured family is torn apart because of an illicit love affair that ends in tragedy. Caste divisions are at the heart of this conflict, and the story provides a searing glimpse into the unintended consequences of what should be an act of love.
It’s very absorbing, but also sad and disturbing, and the ending was particularly troubling. Rather than giving the closure one might hope for after the terrible events of Rachel’s and Esthappen’s childhood, the modern-day framing story closes with a scene that is just as troubling as what has gone before — leaving the reader with the feeling that the bleak history of this family is not going to take a more positive turn anytime soon. And that’s probably very realistic — but you won’t find much hopeful “triumph of the human spirit” here. What you will find is beautiful writing, vividly drawn characters, and a haunting account of a tragedy that, without human prejudice, would never have needed to happen.