The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy. Published 1997 by Random House. Paperback.
Winner of the 1997 Booker Prize, Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things is the story of a Indian family destroyed by love and death. The family is that of children Rahel and Estha, fraternal twins who live with their mother Ammu, their aunt Baby Kochamma and their uncle Chacko. They are the prosperous owners of Paradise Pickle. The death is that of Sophie Mol, a little girl and Chacko's daughter, visiting from England with her mother Margaret. The love is between Ammu and Velutha, a lower-caste neighbor.
Themes explored include race, caste, class and identity; the novel travels back and forth in time between Rahel and Estha's childhood in India and their separate destinies as adults. Tragedy and sadness are interwoven everywhere as the reader is reminded via foreshadowing and repetition of the inevitable forces shaping and reshaping their lives at every turn. The love story between Ammu and Velutha is particularly poignant as Roy shows the cost of the caste system on the lives of the people who live under it.
It sounds like it might be a little depressing, and it is, but I liked it nonetheless. Roy doesn't tell us exactly what happened to Sophie Mol until the very end, and by that time we can see how her death and its consequences are about more than just Sophie. Her fate determines that of every other character and tears back the thin dressing of civility in this troubled community like a bandage from a wound. Roy does a brilliant job of sewing up this patchwork of relationships and lives so that when trouble comes, it rips right along the lines.
The God of Small Things is definitely not the book for every reader; it's slow and it struck me as a dense study of character and culture. It fits well within the tradition of moody Booker Prize winners and would be a fine choice for the literary fiction reader interested in books about India. It's not a lively book but Roy kept me going with the suspense over what happens to Sophie and the other rich, detailed characters. She also evokes the setting beautifully and vividly; you'll fall in love with these characters and live the story along with them.
You can also see my review here.