The God of Small Things

The God of Small Things
First edition
AuthorArundhati Roy
Cover artistSanjeev Saith
PublisherIndiaInk, India
Publication date
Media typePrint (hardback & paperback)
Followed byThe Ministry of Utmost Happiness (2017)

The God of Small Things (1996) is the debut novel of Indian writer Arundhati Roy. It is a story about the childhood experiences of fraternal twins whose lives are destroyed by the "Love Laws" that lay down "who should be loved, and how. And how much." The book explores how the small things affect people's behavior and their lives. It won the Booker Prize in 1997.

The God of Small Things was Roy's first book and only novel, until the 2017 publication of The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, twenty years later. She began writing the manuscript in 1992 and finished four years later in 1996. It was published the following year. The potential of the story was first recognized by Pankaj Mishra, an editor with HarperCollins, who sent it to three British publishers. Roy received 500,000 pounds in advance and rights to the book were sold in 21 countries.

In 2013, Talkhiyan, a Pakistani serial based on the novel, was aired on Express Entertainment.


The story is set in Ayemenem, now part of Kottayam district in Kerala, India. The temporal setting shifts back and forth between 1969, when fraternal twins Rahel and Esthappen are seven years old, and 1993, when the twins are reunited at the age of 31. Malayalam words are liberally used in conjunction with English. Facets of Kerala life captured by the novel are Communism, the caste system, and the Keralite Syrian Christian way of life.

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 England (where he was visiting Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar) to run the family's pickle business after his divorce from an English woman, Margaret, and the subsequent death of Pappachi.

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 Hindu scriptures. To get closer to him, Baby Kochamma converted to Roman Catholicism and joined a convent against her father's wishes. After a few lonely months in the convent, Baby Kochamma realized that her vows brought her no closer to the man she loved. Her father eventually rescued her from the convent and sent her to America, where she obtained a diploma in ornamental gardening. Because of her unrequited love for Father Mulligan, Baby Kochamma remained unmarried for the rest of her life, becoming deeply embittered over time. Throughout the book, she delights in the misfortune of others and constantly manipulates events to bring down calamity on Ammu and the twins.

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 The Sound of Music. On their way to the theater, the family (Chacko, Ammu, Estha, Rahel, and Baby Kochamma) encounters a group of Communist protesters. The protesters surround the car and force Baby Kochamma to wave a red flag and chant a Communist slogan, thus humiliating her. Rahel thinks she sees Velutha, a servant who works for the family's pickle factory among the protesters. Later at the theater, Estha is sexually molested by the "Orangedrink Lemondrink Man," a vendor working the snack counter. Estha's experience factors into the tragic events at the heart of the narrative.

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 dalit and his family has served the Ipes for generations. He is an extremely gifted carpenter and mechanic. His skills in repairing machinery make him indispensable at the pickle factory, but draw resentment and hostility from the other “Touchable” factory workers. Rahel and Estha form an unlikely bond with Velutha and come to love him despite his caste status. It is her children's love for Velutha that causes Ammu to realize her own attraction to him, and eventually, she comes to "love by night the man her children loved by day." Ammu and Velutha begin a short-lived affair that culminates in tragedy for the family.

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 Cochin, where they picked up plane tickets, they see Sophie's body laid out on the sofa.

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.

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