Sunday, July 02, 2006

Reading The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

"He stepped onto the path that led through the swamp to the History House.
He left no ripples in the water.
No footprints on the shore.
He held his mundu spread above his head to dry. The wind lifted it like a sail. He was suddenly happy. Things will get worse, he thought to himself. Then better. He was walking swiftly now, towards the Heart of Darkness. As lonely as a wolf.
The God of Loss.
The God of Small Things.
Naked but for his nail varnish."

The good thing about procrastination is that when you stop at the right moment you can enjoy twice is one go. I got to write about one of my favourite books last time and now I continue writing about my other favourite book: The God (as I like to call it).

I intended to read this book back in 2000. Never got to it, I forgot about it and 6 years later I found a piece of paper, darkened with age, torn at one end. It said in large, bold letters (in handwriting that used to be mine): "The God of Small Things (Arundhati Roy) - India". I cannot even begin to tell you, how happy I am that somewhere, stashed under a tower of old newspaper clippings, old books and old notebooks a single, vulnerable piece of paper staid put long enough for me to discover it again. But this is not the end of the story about rediscovering The God. I went to the library and borrowed the original. Then I got busy and I stopped at page 30 for a small eternity. (Do try to get past the first 150 pages. I promise you will be glad you finished the book.) The book had to be returned to the library. And so it was. Next time I borrowed the Slovenian translation. I dearly wanted to read the original, but this is what you have to put up with when you're too slow a reader and still prefer to go to the library than to a bookshop. Then I found a niche of time and started reading. I read at night, well after midnight when I got to bed and could not fall asleep. Not that God helped me in any way, it did not affect my sleep center. I staid up later and later, reading, immersed in it, my gills again breathing the natural way, feeling at home.

God is a lyrical, profoundly poetic, profoundly beautiful and profoundly realistic book about a fortnight in the youth of dizygotic twins, growing up in Ayemenem in Kerala, India. It is a story about then and now, about the fortnight when the twins and their mother, Ammu and their uncle, Chacko, are visited by Chacko's ex-wife and his daughter. Their visit ends with a double catastrophe. A girl and a man die. It is also a story about decades later and how the twins still feel guilty of the crime they didn't commit. How their wounds are still fresh inside them. Wounds that began that fortnight. It is a story (the kind I like very much) about a disfunctional family at a time of social, cultural, historic transition between the old ways and the new ones. But more than that - it is a book with the prehistoric theme of forbidden love ("Slowly the terror seeped back into him. At what he had done. At what he knew he would do again. And again.") which is told in a fresh, juicy manner, erupting with clever literary devices and tricks.

This book, more than anything I've read in my life, made me say: this is how a child thinks, how she behaves and how far her understanding goes. Because still, this is also a story about three children and how they see the world around them. This is a story about three clever, wonderful, intelligent children and how much (one could also say: how little) they amounted to, because they were deprived of motherly love. It is a story about the damage done by shifting the weight of responsibility (is love a responsibility?) on children. A story about the freedom of choice, about the Caste system, about one's misery and about blaming others for your own faults. It is a story that cuts deeply, that makes you swear under your breath that there's been enough injustice in this world.

"Suddenly Ammu hoped that it had been him that Rahel saw in the march. She hoped it had been him that had raised his flag and knotted arm in anger. She hoped that under his careful cloak of cheerfulness, he housed a living, breathing anger against the smug, ordered world that she so raged against."

The stories of then and now intertwine in a fabulously crafted way. The architecture of the novel is nothing short of perfect. The suspense, the chill, the love, the hatred all told in a breathtaking fashion, fresh and new and daring. A Novel that lets herself live the way it was meant to and does not shy away, does not fear she should have been "different and more serious" to deal with a serious subject matter. A novelist that manages to capture with a single short paragraph the essence of a relationship between an aunt and her niece. And the aunt's personality. And her wounds, still open, still fresh. A writer who manages to steer clear of the question about the nature of love, of the propriety of an attachment. Someone who worships the emotions as they are and allows room for error. Allows for change. But also want this, as it is, and wants it now.

"Ammu saw that he saw. She looked away. He did too. History's fiends returned to claim them. To rewrap them in its old, scarred pelt and drag them back to where they really lived. Where the Love Laws lay down who should be loved. And how. And how much."

Not that it matters, but this book was the winner of the 1997 Booker Prize. The God of Small Things remains Arundhati Roy's only novel.

"[...] with his back against the mangosteen tree watched her walk away.
She had a dry rose in her hair.
She turned to say it once again: "Naaley."


posted by Nadezhda | 20:22


Blogger Bo said...

Not that it can matter much to reading this book - writers should be namely read not seen nor heard; does anybody think otherwise? - but the author looks overly fair to me.
The note about her writing the only (and much successful) novel 9 years ago (while having started it in 1992 as I understand) is very interesting. I can read on Wikipedia she is otherwise a prolific writer about social and political dilemmas of today. Perhaps she made that detour with a novel in order to purge herself of adolescence dreams accumulated in this grand story you presented.
A fair book recommendation this is too.

Blogger Nadezhda said...

Bo, I'm sorry, but I'm not sure I understand what you're trying to say in the first paragraph of your post. What is she being overly fair about? And what are you trying to say with seen/heard? Please, explain.

As for her socially invested work, I think she's going in the right direction. She's making her voice heard. And I don't think her novel is very far and separate from her current work, either. The main message is that love should be boundless, one should not be limited by what she calls the love laws: who you can love and how much. The Caste system is still deeply rooted in the Indian society and her novel was a small, but significant contribution in trying to overcome the history.

Blogger Bo said...

I think her looks are overly fair, she's very beautiful.
But this really shouldn't drive me to read her book. It would sooner be your words. Thanks.

Anonymous tea said...

I've read this book over 2 years ago, and while I tend to read *a lot*, and have therefore read about 60 works of fiction since then, "The God" is still one of my favorites!
It is a beautifully written tale, and your post about was a true joy to read as well! Are you a writer yourself? Maybe you should try!

Anonymous tea said...

oh well, I've just read that one of your hobbies was "writing stories".
sorry about the uninformed comment :)

Blogger Nadezhda said...

Bo - I agree. She's very beautiful. Also: I'm very glad I managed to describe a book in such a way as will drive any person to read it. I'm glad I did manage to write this review so well. (And thank you for the praise!)

Tea - I don't mind the "uninformed" comment in the least. While you're new to my blog, I could also say something more about writing. I haven't seriously written in a long time, but back when I did attempt to write (was considering studying comparative lit. with a possible career as a writer) a person I trust a lot on the subject said I had great potential and that my writing was more adult and polished than his was at the same age. When such words come from a published poet, you cannot help but feel flattered. Then I begun studying medicine, which as you might imagine, is a full-time job and I found myself having less and less time to write.

I write stories and fear I might be terrible at poetry if I ever tried to write it. I've had (what I think is) a good idea for a short novel for several years now and this summer might be the only time to write it. Let's keep our fingers crossed I manage. :)

P.S. I totally agree with what you said about The God and thanks for your praise - such a balm for my ears. :)

[ Post a Comment ]