As my excitement builds for my trip to India this June, I have begun reading Indian authors to acquaint myself with the poetry and prose of a land I know very little about. The first book I picked up was Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things. I expected a beautiful book, but I did not expect the incredible poetry of Roy’s language and the way she makes phrases sing off the pages in a harrowing and deeply sorrowful yet utterly beautiful tune.
To even explain the plot would be an insult to the piece of art that Roy has created. After all, a piece cannot be called truly great for the specific characters or plots, but rather for its ability to tap into the fundamental and universal archetypes of human nature. The God of Small Things manages to touch upon those archetypes on nearly every page, as Roy spins together a tale of characters who struggle to remain whole in a world that seeks to tear apart at their very souls.
Roy speaks of despair as having many faces competing for primacy and that of the many, big despairs of humanity, personal despair falls by the wayside. She says,
“That something happened when personal turmoil dropped by at the wayside shrine of the vast, violent, circling, driving, ridiculous, insane, unfeasible, public turmoil of a nation. That Big God howled like a hot wind, and demanded obeisance. Then Small God (cosy and contained, private and limited) came away cauterized, laughing numbly at his own temerity. Inured by the confirmation of his own inconsequence, he became resilient and truly indifferent…It was never important enough. Because Worse Things happened.”
This theme is one that is constantly threaded throughout the novel as Roy’s characters are faced with the god of small, insignificant, personal turmoil, and the very big, Worse Things that are forced upon them. Upon their country. Upon all humanity.
And further, these despairs, Roy writes, are “no more than a blink of the Earth Woman’s eye.” All we’ve ever known, our families, our dreams, our wars, our science, our literature, our art, our philosophies, our knowledge, our histories, our pasts, our presents, our futures, “everything we are and ever will be – are just a twinkle in her eye.” The sorrow of Roy’s characters, just children at the time of their revelation, is apparent.
“They would grow up grappling with ways of living with what happened. They would try to tell themselves that in terms of geological time it was an insignificant event. Just a blink of the Earth Woman’s eye. That Worse Things had happened. That Worse Things kept happening. But they would find no comfort in the thought.”
Roy’s novel is one that you find yourself thinking about long after reading. The kind that wills you to stay awake for one chapter more. And one chapter more. And one chapter more. Her novel is devastating in its beauty; one that keeps you in the thick of the emotional turmoil of each character until the very last page.