Arundhati Roy (India, 1961)
The God of Small Things (1997) relies on a continuous shift of the
temporal dimension as its main narrative expedient. The story continuously
swings back and forth in time. At the end, it feels like a temporal puzzle
that the reader has to patiently reassemble. Unfortunately, all this swinging
back and forth detracts from the emotional power of the story. It also leaves
unfinished pieces in the story (how Ammu died, why Estha stopped talking)
One feels that toying with time is an artifice for the writer
to avoid having to develop the characters and the scenes.
Throwing in a incest scene and a child molestation scene may help sell the
book, but does not quite help understand the characters better (neither the
causes nor the effects of these two events are fully explained).
Also, the novel relies a bit too much on the "exotic" theme, as if it were
written by an English colonist who meets Indians for the first time.
The first two chapters are lengthy (and not terribly exciting)
summaries of the family's history in the village of Ayemenem.
Rahel goes back to the village to be reunited with her twin brother Estha.
Their mother Ammu died at 31.
When they were still children, 23 years earlier, their cousin
Sophie Mol died. She was the daughter of an Englishwoman,
Margaret Kochamma, and of Rahel's Marxist uncle Chacko, but the two
had already divorced when the accident happened.
At the same time something happened that involved Ammu and
the untouchable Velutha, a skilled carpenter who worked for Chacko.
Ammu's testimony was not accepted by the police.
Estha was then returned to his father, who lived elsewhere.
That was 23 years earlier.
Now the father, on his way to Australia, was returning Estha again.
In the meantime, Estha had stopped talking.
Rahel had been sent to a convent where she soon got in trouble, then
married an American man, Larry, who turned out to be a bad husband
and so she divorced him. She lived in New York until she got news of
Estha's return. Then she decided to go back to her Indian village.
The reference point for the family is Rahel's grandfather's sister
Baby Kochamma, who once became a Catholic nun hoping to seduce a priest.
Estha was once sexually molested by a man selling drinks in a movie theater.
Ammu died in a lodge where she had gone for a job interview.
Rahel was the one who had to write to Estha about the death of their mother.
Chacko had many love affairs with women of his factory, and eventually
married Margaret Kochamma, an English woman of the lower class.
Mammachi (Chacko's mother, Rahel's grandmother) always despised Margaret
Kochamma as just another whore.
The story finally focuses on the events that led to the tragedy. Sophie Mol
and her mother came for a visit after Sophie Mol's stepfather had died.
They were welcome by Chacko and the entire family with excitement.
The day the tragedy happened Ammu had been locked in her room.
Velutha's own father had told Ammu's mather that Ammu and Velutha had a love
affair. Disgusted that her daughter would make love to an untouchable, Mammachi
had locked Ammu in her room.
Baby Kochamma told the police that Velutha had molested Ammu. When Ammu had
finally been able to go to the police to set the record straight, the police
officer had looked down on her and refused to listen to her, thus upholding
the caste prejudice (despite the fact that Velutha had even joined the communist
At the same time the children had planned an escape because Estha thought that
their mother didn't want them anymore. Sophie Mol decided to join them, in order
to make the loss feel harder on the parents. The children had a boat and tried
to row away, but the boat capsized and Sophie Mol drowned. The twins made it
alive to the place where Velutha, by sheer accident, was sleeping.
When the police arrived to arrest Velutha, they found two of the missing
Therefore Velutha was charged with kidnapping and murder.
But the children soon told the truth and the police chief got mad at Baby
Kochamma, especially since Velutha had been beaten to death by the police.
To save both herself from jail and appearances,
Baby Kochamma convinced Estha to lie to the police and accuse Velutha of
All this time Ammu had been powerless because she had been locked in her room.
Baby Kochamma basically kicked Ammu out of the house and forced her to send
Estha to his father.
The last two chapters are devoted to erotic scenes. Finally meeting again
after 23 years, Rahel and Estha make love.
Then the first love encounter between Ammu and Velutha is described.
(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx) |
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