The God of Small Things
by Arundhati Roy
I don’t know what I can say about this book that hasn’t already been said. It’s a prize winner, an internationally acclaimed best seller, and has been for twenty years. But I read it for the first time in 2014, when I moved to Arizona and started a new teaching position with new materials, including this book; I liked it then, liked the style of it, liked the way Roy wrote and the things she had to say, but it was one of several books that I read in an awful hurry, and with a whole lot on my mind at the time.
I read it again, this past two weeks, just finishing it this morning. And this time, because I am encouraging my AP Literature students to read books actively, that is, with a pen in hand and the margins of the book’s own pages as their paper, to comment and question and interact with the text, I did just that: I used my new purple ball point (Which may be the best thing about the gym that my wife and I joined last October: it has good equipment, but not great, and it had been fairly uncrowded until our last work out when a visiting college baseball team came in en masse and inundated us in jockery: but at least they give away ballpoint pens with purple ink!) so that the ink would stand out against the black typeface, and I underlined and I arrowed and I added everything I thought that I thought was worth thinking and adding to the text.
I read it more, this time. More carefully, more attentively, more thoughtfully. I was invested in the text, this time.
And this time, I didn’t just like the book. I loved it.
I was actually enlightened by it. Roy made me think about my own society, and particularly my own family, in a way that I never had before. She crystallized some thoughts for me that might never otherwise have come clear. She also showed me an elegance and a musical grace in words that I never would have seen: words written backwards, and words broken up in new ways — there is a Bar Nowl that lives in the warehouse and hunts mice on silent wings — and a poetry that I don’t ever see in prose. She showed a depth of perception, both in descriptions of environment and of character and of humanity as a whole that I don’t know that I’ve ever seen done better. And she wrote this book on the other side of the world. In her second language. I don’t know if that shows the grandiosity of her genius or if it reveals the power of an outsider’s perception, both hers of my mother tongue and mine of her world and how it parallels my own; I think perhaps she was writing about what she knows, and I see the same things in what I know because people are people all around the globe — but regardless, this book is magic. It is going up on my Very Top Shelf, with Fahrenheit 451 and To Kill a Mockingbird and Of Mice and Men and Shakespeare and ee cummings.
And that’s what I have to say about this book.