The God of Small Things

THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS relates in a strikingly original way how a once-wealthy and prestigious family from the South Indian state of Kerala rushes headlong to destruction. Several generations of the eccentric Ipes, who are highly Anglicized Indians and Syrian Christians, appear in the narrative. Each one does his or her share in leading the doomed family to its decline and fall.

Arundhati Roy’s novel opens in contemporary, post-colonial India when the adult Ipe twins, long separated, reunite at the family home, which has fallen into ruin. The action shifts to 1969 when their visiting half-English cousin drowned during the Christmas holidays. This accident set into motion a series of events that ultimately affect each family member and lead to their separation from one another, and separation from life itself.

The narrative unfolds in an indirect way that suggests the unreliability of memory. Events fade in and out. Details accumulate slowly. Different versions of what happened appear. Only gradually are the child’s death and the marriage of her Indian father and British mother revealed, along with the parentage and sad fate of the twins, and revelations about the destiny of other family members.

Roy handles this account of the unfortunate Ipes with admirable skill. In spite of the shifting time sequences and the inventive narrative style, each character emerges well-defined and the fragments of story fall into place. Roy also captures in exquisite tones the exotic qualities of tropical South India.

It is never clear whether “the god of small things” acts as a destroyer or creator, enemy or friend, a bringer of evil or goodness. Perhaps this mysterious deity is life itself, full of contradictions.

Sources for Further Study

Asiaweek. XXIII, April 25, 1997, p. 45.

Far Eastern Economic Review. CLX, April 24, 1997, p. 66.

The Nation. CCLXV, September 29, 1997, p. 36.

The New York Review of Books. XLIV, August 14, 1997, p. 16.

The New York Times Book Review. CII, May 25, 1997, p. 5.

The New Yorker. LXXIII, June 23, 1997, p. 156.

Newsweek. CXXIX, May 26, 1997, p. 76.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLIV, March 3, 1997, p. 62.

The Times Literary Supplement. May 30, 1997, p. 23.

The Washington Post Book World. June 22, 1997, p. 1.

Women’s Review of Books. XIV, September, 1997, p. 1.