Sunday, 7 December 2008

Arundhati Roy

The God of Small Things

I first read Roy’s Booker Prize Winner, ‘The God of Small things’ in 1999 while undergoing the worst trauma of my life. Roy had a halo at the time, especially for us Keralites. No, this is not to say that we should look at things, especially fiction, through parochial eyes.

I read ‘The God of Small Things’ in what was later to be termed in a patchy manner due to the circumstances prevailing in my personal life at the time. It talked of a village in Kerala and used Malayalam words rampantly. There were the rivers, the ponds, the lotuses in full bloom, the pickles, childhood and everything else you would have encountered here in Kerala as a child, growing up in the sixties and seventies.

I was mesmerized with the book for sure, though I had read it in between huge gaps while going in and out of hospitals, which is surely not the way to read any book, leave alone a Booker Winner. But that is how it was.

I reread ‘The God of Small Things’ again last week. It took three days, but the worst part was that I grew impatient and wanted to know what actually happened and so I skipped paragraphs and moved on in this manner till the very end. I sighed. I am confused and unhappy. I do not want to ‘rejoin’ the Roy - bashing bandwagon, yet I will state that it is not as wonderful as I had thought it to be. As l said, l am confused and a little unhappy.

This happens with many books, it is not something that does not happen to others, especially with people like me who is reading and rereading books all the time, when not writing. There is no doubt on Roy’s magnificent plot and the way in which she has narrated it, stretching language till it doesn’t break.

Just before rereading Roy, I had been reading Jose Saramago’s ‘Seeing’. For days on end after that l felt as though l was living inside a bubble and it would burst, while showing me the real world for the first time. The grip that SEEING had on me is in a way all about what good books aught to do to a serious reader. The opening lines of Orhan Pamuk’s ‘The New World’ – l read a book one day and my whole life was changed – holds true for this transcendental work by Saramago.

It taught me that SEEING is not BELIEVING. Reading is.

I reread SEEING again and it still left me gaping, mesmerized, and roused beyond the usual levels of succor. I am madly hunting for his other works like ‘Blindness’, which l am told is a precursor to ‘Seeing’.

Just before reading ‘Seeing’, l went through Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s magnum opus, ‘Crime and Punishment’ for the nth time and believe me it moved me yet again, with its maxims on human behavior and its world vision.



redkazim said...

zabardast post. I don't want to ruin the pleasure of reading Roy in haste. That's the reason I have resisted the temptation to read The God of Small Things by now. I GREATLY admire Roy for her political essays -- and I have read many of them. I wish we had at least one writer-cum-political activist like Arundhati Roy here in Pakistan, especially in Karachi whose peace is marred by the fascist MQM for decades now.

petra michelle; Whose role is it anyway? said...

I can relate to your feeling somewhat disappointed in the second reading of any book. I think one brings to the book what
he/she is feeling at that moment, or is open to feel and understand.
We change all of the time, so our reception may change. Some books remain unchanged in our minds' eyes, where others are so visceral, which to me, is an amazing accomplishment.
Interesting post, Chandini!
Someone recently has tagged me to list authors I've been introduced to for the first time in 2008. I have't had the opportunity to do so yet, but Chandini, I'd love to tag you if you have the time. I truly respect your taste in writing and reading, and would love to be introduced to books in your part of the world which I'd ordinarily not be exposed to.

petra michelle; Whose role is it anyway? said...

It's official, Chandini. I just posted my Reader's Meme in which I've tagged you to list authors you've read for the first time this year. I would love to read your list, Chandini. It would be a great education for me! Thank you.

petra michelle; Whose role is it anyway? said...

*laughing* Please excuse my overindulgence! But I received The
Proximidade Award which I'd like to pass along to you, Chandini. It really is a nice award to recognize our blog friendships! As you can see, if you'd like to copy it and pass it along, I couldn't stop passing it along! :))

yasho said...

Roy is still an enigma to me... I read TGOST in haste, like you, wanting to know the end, skipping paras and descriptions too, at times. but the familiar images did not evoke any happy vibrations either...I was jealous, i think, naively thinking this is something i could have done and didnt do... foolish me tried to reread TGOST, but it has been a task...I turn a page and take a longing look at the du Maurier anthologies that beckon me from the shelf and think, why should I finish this... Is it jealousy this time? I dont think so, I have finally convinced myself that I cant ever write like her...then why do I feel I dont want to reread it?

Chandini Santosh said...

I usually read a book verbatim. I read each and every word, l take note of printer's errors, any other slips, and if it is a translated work, I roll the structure of the sentences in my mind. In short, I am meticuous in my reading habits. I read Pamuk's The Black Book, the 600 odd pages with such verve and brimming desire and completed it in a week. I then read up all of Pamuk's works but did not enjoy all of them. My Name is Red remains my favorite.
I have reread Alexander Solshenitsyn's Cancer Ward at least five times, without skipping a single word. They tell me these works are above average reading and also insightful. I have reread Maquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera for unnumbered times, but I have yet to get bored of them. Infact I dont think that will ever happen. But Roy? I feel ashamed at times, sometimes guilty and sometimes plain unhappy.

petra michelle; Whose role is it anyway? said...

Noted the author Pamuk in your comment, Chandini. Haven't read
Solzhenitsyn's "Cancer Ward." Have noted that one. Have Marquez's
"One Hundred Years of Solitude", but haven't been able to finish it, yet.
Thank you! A very enlightening comment for me, Chandini!

Chandini Santosh said...

When I was an undergraduate, I read kaleidoscope of literary works of authors, who were as different as chalk and cheese. It was the Era of Existentialism. We were into Sartre(Never quite liked any of his works), Kafka (Was mwsmerised by 'Metamorphosis'), Albert Camus(Everbody went ga-ga over 'The Outsider', the Bible of existentialism, but I read 'The Plague' and i could not think of anything else for days on end) and then there was Genet's 'Flower Children' and Simon de Bouvier's 'Second Sex'.
The next phase began with Truman Capote. I read his collection of short stories titled, 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' and was not impressed. My friend gave me Capote's 'In Cold Blood' and I read it with awe. John Stienbeck's 'The Grapes of Wrath' followed, Thomas Mann's 'Magic Mountain', Tolstoy's 'Anna Karennina & War and Peace', Dostoyevsky's 'Karamazov Brothers', 'Crime and Punishment', Solshenitsyn's 'One Day in the Life of Ivan Ivanovitch' and many more. They shaped my world.
In between I would go back to my eternal favorites like 'Adventures of Tom Sawyer' and the Enid Blyton series. It was an uninted mix of reading. The only books i did not read were the Mills & Boon romances and sexy stuff from Harold Robbins. Co, though I had an immense desire to look it up. Later when I did, I could not read beyound a few pages. Now i read ONLY the best titles, and that does not mesn prize winners. I can feel the vibrations of a book when I am hunting around for a gook book and I am never wrong.
Today, I am starting to read Nikos kazantzakis's 'Freedom and Death' and have also lined up Milan Kundera's 'Identity' and Michael Ondaatje's 'The English Patient'. I am sure you will agree that it is a wonderfully fulfilling list.

Beatrice V said...

Hello Chandini, I can be a bit of an impatient reader, skipping paragraphs which seem repetitive here and there, I also read The God of Small Things with great pleasure the first time, haven't read it a second time, but it it did happen on other occasions being disappointed on second reading of a book which at first, had made a great impression. II wonder if you read the latest Booker prize winner? Again by a South Indian writer and his first novel: The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga. What is interesting in this case, is that veers away from the usual lyricism of most Indian writers, by a deliberate use of crude language and witty sarcasm, I am in two minds about this book, I wonder what you think about it? Hope you are well. Bx

Chandini Santosh said...

Aravind Adiga is superb! Grab it!
I wrote about him in my last post. Many admirers for him. And yes, it is a scathing read unlike others.