“Even later, on the thirteen nights that followed this one, instinctively they stuck to the Small Things. The Big Things ever lurked inside. They knew that there was nowhere for them to go. They had nothing. No future. So they stuck to the small things.”
The God of Small Things is the first and only novel of Indian writer Arundhati Roy. This novel is a story about the childhood experiences of the twins Rahel and Estha whose lives are destroyed by the “Love Laws” that lay down “who should be loved, and how. And how much.” I’ve been planning to read this for a long time since this is a favorite of my friend whose opinion and taste in books I respect. Then it became our book club’s book last March so I finally had a chance to read it. And love it.
The structure of the plot is complex and very unconventional. It started with the coming home of Rahel then shifted to their childhood when their cousin died. The setting then kept on shifting back and forth, shifting of past and present, stories interlacing and blending. I’ll admit, this narrative is not easy to follow. Sometimes it’s confusing. In the beginning, we know bad things will happen but we don’t know how and why they happened. Within the shifting, there were flashbacks of memories with signs. I think there is beauty in this mystery that held my attention, kept me looking for signs until everything was revealed near the end. Understanding dawns on us as we read. I think the non-linear storytelling improves the reader’s understanding as knowledge of the future provides more meaning to what happened in the past. After sometime, I enjoyed the jumping of the story-line at random points in the characters’ lives and figured out the story from there.
There are a lot of characters in this novel but I felt that I know them all well. The narrative is told in a way that we learn about each of the members of their family. And also of Velutha and his father, who are workers in their factory and even of Kochu Maria, a family servant. Even though we mostly see the novel from Rahel’s perspective, we get a decent view of each character’s motives and back-stories.
The connection of the twins is also interesting. How when they were children, they’re close and understand each other, as if they’re just one person. I like how the story was told in the children’s point of view in the past with their innocence and imagination. How they created their own language, linking words, reading them backwards, and using odd capitalization. These words acquired deeper meaning. It’s as if the twins are telling us that they’re important so we should remember them. How they both endured the sufferings in their childhood. And how they were separated until they were reunited again in the present. The guilt they must have felt but with the realization that “You’re not the Sinners. You’re the Sinned Against.”
There’s a lot of symbolism used in this story. The pickles, Papachi’s moth, The History House, Rahel’s watch, Small Things, Big Things, etc. I will not try to analyze them here but they are good hints to the story line. Through this novel, I also became more aware, or let’s say, I was reminded again of the injustice and hypocrisy in our society. Communism and Marxism, the caste system, different sexual freedom of men and women, and colonialism. This is a drama about love, pain, lies, misunderstanding, discrimination and family reputation. All these things echoed through the years; what happened during childhood have haunted the twins through time.
I read this more than three months ago but while writing this, it still evokes a lot of feelings. Tortured Velutha, Sophie Mol’s death, the effect to the twins and what they did in the end. This novel is heartbreaking, tragic and cruel. But with the unique narrative and those jumping timelines, I applaud the author’s choice of the ending. Affirmation of true love, setting aside other people’s judgments. Sticking to the “Small Things”. Waiting for each “Tomorrow.” Brilliant!