The God of Small Things
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|Cover artist||Sanjeev Saith|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
The God of Small Things (1996) is the
The God of Small Things was Roy's first book and only novel, until the 2017 publication of
This section's plot summary may be
The story is set in
Lacking sufficient dowry to marry, Ammu Ipe is desperate to escape her ill-tempered father, known as Pappachi, and her bitter, long-suffering mother, known as Mammachi. She finally persuades her parents to let her spend a summer with a distant aunt in Calcutta. To avoid returning to Ayemenem, she marries a man who helps manage a tea estate. She later discovers that he is an alcoholic, and he physically abuses her and tries to pimp her to his boss in order to keep his job. She gives birth to Rahel and Estha, leaves her husband, and returns to Ayemenem to live with her father, mother and brother, Chacko. Chacko has returned to India from
The multi-generational family home in Ayemenem also includes Pappachi's sister, Navomi Ipe, known as Baby Kochamma. As a young girl, Baby Kochamma fell in love with Father Mulligan, a young Irish priest who had come to Ayemenem to study
|“||"It didn't matter that the story had begun, because Kathakali discovered long ago that the secret of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets. The Great Stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don't deceive you with thrills and trick endings."||”|
|— The God of Small Things|
The death of Margaret's second husband in a car accident prompts Chacko to invite her and Sophie (Margaret's and Chacko's daughter from their brief marriage) to spend Christmas in Ayemenem. The day before Margaret and Sophie arrive, the family goes to a theater to see
Rahel's assertion that she saw Velutha in the Communist mob causes Baby Kochamma to associate Velutha with her humiliation at the protesters' hands, and she begins to harbor a deep hatred toward him. Velutha is an Untouchable (the lowest caste in India), a
When her relationship with Velutha is discovered, Ammu is locked in her room and Velutha is banished. In her rage, Ammu blames the twins for her misfortune and calls them "millstones around her neck." Distraught, Rahel and Estha decide to run away. Their cousin, Sophie Mol, persuades them to take her with them. During the night, as they try to reach an abandoned house across the river, their boat capsizes and Sophie drowns. When Margaret and Chacko return from
Baby Kochamma goes to the police and accuses Velutha of being responsible for Sophie's death. She claims that Velutha tried to rape Ammu, threatened the family, and kidnapped the children. A group of policemen hunt Velutha down, savagely beat him for crossing caste lines, and arrest him on the brink of death. The twins, huddling in the abandoned house, witness the horrific scene. Later, when they reveal the truth to the chief of police—that they ran away by choice, and that Sophie's death was an accident—he is alarmed. He knows that Velutha is a Communist, and is afraid that if word gets out that the arrest and beating were wrongful, it will cause unrest among the local Communists. He threatens to hold Baby Kochamma responsible for falsely accusing Velutha. To save herself, Baby Kochamma tricks Rahel and Estha into believing that the two of them would be implicated as having murdered Sophie out of jealousy and were facing sure imprisonment for them and their Ammu. As a way out of this, she convinces them to lie to the inspector that Velutha had kidnapped them and had murdered Sophie. Velutha dies of his injuries overnight.
After Sophie's funeral, Ammu goes to the police, with Rahel and Estha in tow, to tell the truth about her relationship with Velutha. The police threaten her to make her leave the matter alone. Afraid of being exposed, Baby Kochamma convinces Chacko that Ammu and the twins were responsible for his daughter's death. Chacko kicks Ammu out of the house and forces her to send Estha to live with his father. Estha never sees Ammu again. She dies alone and impoverished a few years later at the age of 31.
After a turbulent childhood and adolescence in India, Rahel gets married and goes to America. There, she divorces before returning to Ayemenem after several years of working dead-end jobs. Rahel and Estha, now 31—the age their mother was when she died; a "viable, die-able age," as Roy writes—are reunited for the first time since they were children. In the intervening years, they have been haunted by their guilt and their grief-ridden pasts. Estha is perpetually silent, and Rahel has a haunted look in her eyes. It becomes apparent that neither twin ever found another person who understood them in the way they understand each other. Toward the end of the novel, the twins have sex. The novel comes to a close with a nostalgic recounting of Ammu and Velutha's love affair.