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The Colgate Maroon-News

The Oldest College Weekly in America. Founded 1868.

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The Oldest College Weekly in America. Founded 1868.

The Colgate Maroon-News

A Love Letter to ‘The God of Small Things’

Graphic: Valeria Reyes

*Editorial content warning: this piece contains brief mentions of physical violence.

As an English major, I pretty much never know when to shut up, whether that’s about movies, television, music or the cultural zeitgeist. Unfortunately, I haven’t truly read a book for my own leisure since my first year, and when I do, it’s something incredibly basic, and I come out of it with a fairly universal take. So, when I was assigned to write a book review, I was ashamed to admit that I had no idea what to write about. Still, I am including this confession as an important foundational basis for readers to understand that I am largely not someone who reads in an all-consuming, meaningful way, so you can really trust my opinions on non-academic reading material that is worthwhile.

Ironically, I was introduced to Arundhati Roy’s “The God of Small Things” in my “Justice and Power in Postcolonial Literature” class. Everyone else read it or used SparkNotes to learn about the book; I devoured it. I spent one Friday evening reading the entire book, absolutely terrified of its characters and stress-eating Oliveri’s pizza. The ending left me so broken up that I called my mother and texted my friends from the same class to prepare them for devastation.

Where do I begin? “The God of Small Things” is the ultimate modernist narrative, with its disjointed structure and shifts between childhood and adulthood, leaving you stuck healing from the traumatic events of the main characters’ younger years. It takes place in Kerala, India, during the 1960s, in which the end of colonialism still lies in the legacies of caste and “love laws” that criminalize miscegenation. Twins Rahel and Estha are placed at the center of it all as they observe the Communist revolution, the arrival of a long-lost cousin fetishized for her white skin and their mother’s forbidden love affair with the “untouchable” Velutha.

Sure, you could classify “The God of Small Things” within the reductive realm of postcolonial literature, but like most postcolonial narratives, the characters’s personal arcs are made central. I’ve always thought that making colonial history a political subtext to interpersonal relationships is even more powerful in that genre anyway, emphasizing that the setting is so cruel and pervasive that it leaks into characters’s everyday lives.

I was thinking about this book long after I had left the classroom. It eulogizes the moments in life that you either forgot or wish you could forget. Roy’s genius lies in her portrayal of innocence and childlike significance, capitalizing words in phrases like “Little Bit Disappointed” or “Because Anything Can Happen To Anyone” to show the emotional effects of specific diction or even the phrase’s regularity in the twins’s lives during childhood. The imagery is gruesome and tactile, as moments of murder or assault are described comparatively to youthful images, like “sticky” orange juice. These violent scenes are also described literally, such as the auditory description of the crunch of bone. The result is a devastating earnestness that is really only permitted through the perspective of naïveté. Perhaps the most heartbreaking aspect is that we are shown fractions of events from that youthful gaze, and then they are snatched away from us, repurposed with adult eyes. All the magic of innocence is squeezed out, and we’re left with cruel realities.

I am a huge believer in the idea that books are cathartic in the way that they are able to make readers feel seen. “The God of Small Things” takes place in a setting halfway across the world from where I grew up, about sixty years ago, but I was still able to find myself in each of its characters.

Rating: 5/5

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