A middle-class Syrian Christian family lives in Ayemenem in the southern Indian state of Kerala. In the Ayemenem house are Ammu, her twin children (Estha and Rahel), her brother (Chacko), her mother (Mammachi), and her aunt (Baby Kochamma). Also living in the house is the patriarch of the family, Pappachi, who is a disgruntled, retired entomologist.
Chacko, who has returned home from Oxford, where he had been a Rhodes scholar, can no longer tolerate his father’s abusive behavior toward his mother, and one night he intervenes, demanding that he stop beating her. Pappachi stops, but he also stops speaking to Mammachi for the remainder of his life. Pappachi also forces Ammu, his daughter, to discontinue her college education.
Ammu returns home from college and then leaves for Calcutta to visit an aunt. In Calcutta she also meets Baba, a Hindu who works for a tea plantation owned by an Englishman. Ammu marries Baba to avoid having to return to her parents’ home in Ayemenem. The couple have twins, Estha and Rahel. Ammu divorces Baba, who, it turns out, is an alcoholic and a wife beater.
Ammu, Estha, and Rahel return to Ayemenem to live with Mammachi, Baby Kochamma, and Chacko. Pappachi dies and, after his death, Mammachi starts a pickle factory called Paradise Pickles and Preserves.
As a young girl, Baby had been infatuated with an Irish priest. To be close to him, she had become a nun. The priest, however, did not return the love and left for the United States. Broken-hearted, Baby leaves the convent and returns to Ayemenem. She remains unmarried.
Velutha is a talented and good-looking paravan (an untouchable) and an employee of Paradise Pickles and Preserves. With his ability to fix almost anything, he makes himself invaluable to the enterprise. He befriends Rahel and Estha and thus gets closer to Ammu, although they maintain their caste-prescribed distance.
Chacko had married Margaret Kochamma, an English waitress, whom he had known during his studies at Oxford. Together, they have one child, Sophie Mol, but the marriage fails because of Chacko’s inability to find a job and provide for the family....
(The entire section is 887 words.)