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Arundhati Roy – The God of Small Things

March 2, 2008

26. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (1997)

Length: 321 pages

Genre: Literary Fiction

Started: 28 February 2008
Finished: 02 March 2008

Summary: This book tells the story of two twins in a small village in India, whose childhoods are lost as they are engulfed in the tragedy of a single day, a small misunderstanding, and the waves of history, prejudice, politics, and emotion. The story jumps forward and backwards through time, beginning on the day that Estha and Rahel’s cousin, Sophie Mol, dies, and then weaving around that day, finally building up to explain what exactly had happened that changed their lives forever.

Review: Another award winner that I just didn’t care for or understand the hubbub about. The language is certainly unique, and absolutely has its own rhythm, sliding its way out of the bounds of sentence structure and twisting around wordplay, sing-song repetitions of particular phrases, and vivid but disjointed sense impressions. Still, a unique voice and a twisty language is not enough on its own to make me enjoy a book – they have to be have a worthwhile story to hang on, a structure to decorate and make beautiful. When it’s the other way around, when the language seems to be primary and the plot secondary, I just don’t attach emotionally to the story or the characters, and it makes the fancy language seem self-indulgent. This book had one too many unresolved threads, pointless-seeming diversions, and flat secondary characters to justify all of the fancy word-tricks. In this case, the narrative time-shifting also worked against the story, since by the time it actually got around to revealing the big secret of what happened, I could no longer be bothered to care. The story was too dense and heavy-feeling to feel hollow, but the ending wasn’t worth the book that had preceded it. 2 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Enough people love it that I’m sure there’s something here that I just didn’t get, didn’t connect with, but… I didn’t. Not something I am ever likely to read again, or to recommend.

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First Line: May in Ayemenem is a hot, brooding month.

Vocab:

  • p. 8: “She heard (on Sphile Mol’s behalf) the softsounds of the red mud and the hardsounds of the orange laterite that spoiled the shining coffin polish.” – a reddish ferruginous soil formed in tropical regions by the decomposition of the underlying rocks.
    .
  • p. 13: “When the vegetables had been weighed and paid for, the would transfer them to his red plastic shopping basket (onions at the bottom, brinjal and tomatoes on the top) and always a sprig of coriander and a fistful of green chilies for free.” – eggplant.
    .
  • p. 32: “He had a tiffin carrier with tomato sandwiches.” – lunch.
    .
  • p. 39: “His family were once-wealthy zamindars who had migrated to Calcutta from East Bengal after Partition.” – An official in precolonial India assigned to collect the land taxes of his district.
    .
  • p. 59: “She wondered what had caused the bald pilgrims to vomit so uniformly, and whether they had vomited together in a single-well orchestrated heave (to music perhaps, to the rhythm of a bus bhajan), or separately, one at a time.” – a religious song of praise.
    .
  • p. 85: “‘Big Man the Laltain sahib, Small man the Mombatti,’ an old coolie, who met Estha’s school excursion party at the railway station (unfailingly, year after year) used to say of dreams.” – an unskilled laborer, esp. formerly in China and India.
    .
  • p. 119: “The stone steps that had once led bathers right down to the water, and Fisher People to the fish, were entirely exposed and led from nowhere to nowhere, like an absurd corbelled monument that commemorated nothing.” – any bracket, esp. one of brick or stone, usually of slight extent.
    .
  • p. 122: “To smash the windscreen of a car that dared to venture out on the day of an Opposition bandh.” – a form of protest used by political activists during which a large chunk of a community declares a general strike, usually lasting one day.
    .
  • p. 130: “The frilled skirt was underpinned with buckram to make it flare” – a stiff cotton fabric for interlinings, book bindings, etc.
    .
  • p. 182: “A pair of actors trapped in a recondite play with no hint of plot or narrative.” – dealing with very profound, difficult, or abstruse subject matter.
    .
  • p. 185: “The smell of vinegar and asafetida stung his nostrils, but Estha was used to it, loved it.” – a soft, brown, lumpy gum resin having a bitter, acrid taste and an obnoxious odor, obtained from the roots of several Near Eastern plants belonging to the genus Ferula, of the parsley family.
    .
  • p. 192: “It ws a boat. A tiny wooden vallom.” – Type of Indian boat.
    .
  • p. 266: “Even Chacko – who knew that the fervent, high-pitched speeches aout Rights of Untouchables (“Caste is Class, comrades”) delivered by Comrade Pillai during the Marxist Party siege of Paradise Pickles were pharisaic – never learned the whole story.” – practicing or advocating strict observance of external forms and ceremonies of religion or conduct without regard to the spirit; self-righteous; hypocritical.
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