Arundhati Roy is best known for The God of Small Things (1997), her first and only novel to date. Drawing on Roy's childhood in the southern Indian state of Kerala, and combining aspects of the fairy tale, pastoral lyric, tragedy, and political fable, the novel represents a milestone in the stylistic development of South Asian literature in English. Roy's highly poetic language and the originality of her child-centered narrative perspective are memorable features of the work. Coinciding fortuitously with India's fiftieth anniversary celebrations the year it was published, The God of Small Things won the Booker Prize, became an international bestseller, and has been translated into 18 languages.
Suzanna Arundhati Roy was born on November 24, 1961, in the Indian state of Assam, to a Syrian Christian mother, the feminist activist and teacher Mary Roy, and a Bengali Hindu father. Roy's parents divorced when she and her brother were very young, and she spent the rest of her childhood in her mother's family home in the small town of Ayemenem (Aymanam) in Kerala. Educated in a school created by her mother, Roy later attended a boarding school in Tamil Nadu, and went on to study architecture in New Delhi.
Roy began her writing career as a screenwriter for television documentaries and historical dramas, although her training as an architect has also been cited as an important influence on her fiction. She started her screenwriting work after meeting and collaborating with the filmmaker and environmentalist Pradeep Krishen on a historical TV drama, Bargad (The Banyan Tree). They later married. Roy's most important early screenwriting project, however, was for another film, In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones (1988), which was set in a Delhi architecture college, and presents a rough, incipient version of the themes of Roy's later work, especially a suspicion of institutional power and a fascination with language.
In The God of Small Things Roy uses a complex doubled time scheme to tell the story of a fateful romance between a high-caste Syrian Christian divorcee, Ammu, and a low-caste “untouchable” carpenter, Velutha. Narrated from the perspective of Ammu's children, the novel shuffles in alternate chapter sections between the past (the late 1960s) and the present (the early 1990s) when the children are reunited in their family home. The tragic culmination of the forbidden romance, which ends in Velutha's death in police custody and the death by drowning of the children's cousin Sophie Mol, is presented as a past event that haunts and traumatizes the twinned protagonists as adults. Roy's narrative deals with personal painful memory through a unique concentration on “little events, ordinary things” that trigger recollection, and the gradual “beachcombing” process by which remembered “small things” become “the bleached bones of a story” (Roy 1997, 32–3) is one of the triumphs of novel.
Roy engages with several themes that arise from the novel's postcolonial Indian setting: the dislocating effect of a colonial past on the twins’ family; the dangers of hybridity; the complicities of history and power; the failure of Kerala's communist administration; and the changes wrought in south India by globalization, tourism, and industrial growth. Deeply lyrical and meticulously structured, Roy's novel tests the limits of prose in its use of neologisms, repetitions, lists, and capitalizations. Her fiction is also remarkably cinematic in its visual acuity, its fascination with talismanic objects, and its memorable set pieces.
Since publishing the novel, Roy has turned from fiction to political journalism – lending support to environmental, anti-globalization, and anti-war movements both in India and internationally. Her articles and essays have appeared in numerous newspapers and journals and have been published as The Cost of Living (1999), Power Politics (2001), The Algebra of Infinite Justice (2002) and The Ordinary Person's Guide to Empire (2004a). Roy has repeatedly defended her new role as a human-rights campaigner and essayist by questioning the differentiation between fiction and non-fiction, stating that both are equally viable modes of truth-telling.
If there is a principle that links The God of Small Things with Roy's later essays and journalism it is the ability to make connections and challenge the boundaries between the powerful and the powerless, by envisaging the world from multiple perspectives across these boundaries. All of Roy's work develops an “aesthetic of connection”: a process of forging meanings and tracing the reach of power that has the creative potential of dissent (Tickell 10). As well as speaking out against the “war on terror” and the occupation of Iraq, Roy has lent notable personal support to a variety of Indian and international protest groups and causes.
SEE ALSO: English Studies, the Academy, and Fiction (WF); Humor and Satire (WF); Indian Fiction (WF); Politics/Activism and Fiction (WF); Postcolonialism and Fiction (WF)
- The God of Small Things: Arundhati Roy. Paris: Armand Colin/VUEF-CNED. (2002).
- Bhatt, I.; Nityanandam, I. (eds.) (1999). Explorations: Arundhati Roy's “The God of Small Things”. New Delhi: Creative.
- Dhawan, R. K. (ed.) (1999). Arundhati Roy: The Novelist Extraordinary. New Delhi: Sangam.
- Durix, C.; Durix, J. P. (eds.) (2002). Reading Arundhati Roy's “The God of Small Things”. Dijon: Editions Universitaires de Dijon.
- Arundhati Roy's “The God of Small Things”. London: Continuum. (2002).
- Arundhati Roy's “The God of Small Things”: A Critical Appraisal. New Delhi: Sarup. (2005).
- The God of Small Things. London: HarperCollins. (1997).
- The Cost of Living. London: HarperCollins. (1999).
- Power Politics. Cambridge, MA: South End. (2001).
- The Algebra of Infinite Justice. London: HarperCollins. (2002).
- The Ordinary Person's Guide to Empire. London: HarperCollins. (2004a).
- Public Power in the Age of Empire. New York: Seven Stories. (2004b).
- The Chequebook and the Cruise Missile: Conversations with Arundhati Roy. London: Harper Perennial. ; (2004).
- World Tribunal on Iraq: Making the Case against War. New York: Interlink. ; ; (2008).
- The Mind and the Art of Arundhati Roy. New Delhi: Minerva. (2003).
- Arundhati Roy's “The God of Small Things”. London: Routledge. (2007).
Arundhati Roy was born to a Bengali father and a Syrian-Christian mother and grew up in Aymanam, Kerala, in India. She studied architecture at...
Maverick architect and film-maker, now a dazzlingly original writer whose début novel, The God of Small Things ( 1997 )...
Indian author and environmental activist. Her first novel, The God of Small Things (1997), won the Booker Prize. 27 The whole of contemporary h