#Book Snap Sunday – The God of Small Things

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This week I’m borrowing an idea from Sharon from Gum Trees and Galaxies, who used the beautiful pond at Laurel Bank Park for her snap of Claude Monet’s Mad Enchantment a few weeks ago. The floating water lilies and reeds was the perfect backdrop for Arundhati Roy’s debut novel, The God of Small Things, which was awarded the Booker prize for 1997.  Set in India, the novel tells the story of a multi-generational family, from 1969 to the early 90’s. It is a time of change, however… “Change is one thing. Acceptance is another.”

Beliefs about caste, especially about the relations between the Touchables and the Untouchables, run very deep. “The Love Laws lay down who should be loved. And how. And how much.”  The price for crossing the line is very steep.

Much of the story focuses on twins Rahel and Estha, whose lives are irrevocably changed by a complicated mix of malice, violence, cultural beliefs and social discrimination. Rahel and Estha are two-egg twins, unalike yet sharing a “siamese soul.” Separated for 23 years, they bear the guilt for a sin they never committed.

“You’re not the Sinners. You’re the Sinned Against. You were only children. You had no control. You are the victims, not the perpetrators.” 

Their mother, Ammu, is a woman “already damned.” After a foolish marriage to escape “the clutches of her ill-tempered father and bitter, long-suffering mother” resulted in divorce when her husband turned out to be “a full-blown alcoholic with all of an alcoholic’s deviousness and tragic charm”, she knows for herself “there would be no more chances”. But Ammu has “little left to lose, and could therefore be dangerous.”

And then there is Velutha, a Paravan, Untouchable, “not allowed to touch anything that Touchables touched.” However, Velutha is given opportunities not usually afforded Paravans. Trained as a carpenter, he is “allowed to touch things that Touchables touched” and for this “he ought to be grateful” because it was “a big step for a Paravan.”

His father, though, is still an “Old World Paravan”. He remembers the days of crawling backwards and “sweeping away their footprints so that Brahmins or Syrian Christians would not defile themselves,” and covering their mouths “to divert their polluted breath.” His gratitude to Ammu’s family for their benevolence and generosity, “widened his smile and bent his back.”

Velutha’s quiet assurance, pride and sense of worth disturbs his father’s entrenched beliefs about caste segregation but when he realises his “Untouchable son had touched…entered…loved” what he had no right to touch or love, the Terror is unleashed.               

The God of Small Things is a somewhat complicated narrative, moving between past and present without the usual text markers so it does require the reader to pay careful attention, however the rich imagery used by Roy brings all the sights, sounds, tastes and smells of India and the passing seasons to life. It reminds us that it is the small things that can bring about massive change and that things can change in just one day.  

#Book Snap Sunday – Wyoming Stories

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Wyoming Stories by Annie Proulx is a collection of short stories that features a wonderful array of characters and depicts the poverty, hardship and resilience of the people of Wyoming. It was originally published as two volumes: Close Range in 1999 and Bad Dirt in 2004. This combined edition was published in 2007 and features one of Proulx’s most well-known stories, “Brokeback Mountain” which was adapted for film in 2005 and starred Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal.

Wyoming is one of the largest states of the US but also the least populous. The state capital of Cheyenne had a population of around 63,000 in 2017 while Toowoomba’s population around the same time was about 135,000. I was quite surprised to read that, however given that two thirds of the state is covered by mountain ranges, the climate is described as semi-arid, and it is drier and windier than anywhere else in the US, well that puts it into perspective. Wyoming is also home to the Yellowstone National Park.

Some of the stories are sad as the old world of ranching is passing away. Some are a little gruesome but with a dark sense of humour, like “The Blood Bay” in which a cowboy, in need of a new pair of boots, discovers another cowboy frozen to death in the snow. Eyeing off the dead man’s “fine pair of handmade boots” he requisitions the boots with the help of his knife and leaves them to thaw out – still containing the previous owners…

My favourite story was “The Contest” in which the men of Elk Tooth sign up for a beard growing contest over the Winter. At first the contest is just a bit of light-hearted fun, but it soon becomes “cruelly competitive” and some competitors resort to desperate lengths to promote beard growth, even consulting a book, of all things. While the residents of Elk Tooth would have been astounded that “there were shops devoted entirely to books”, they soon discover the mystery of “sideways leaning words” (italics) and ponder whether Umberto Eco, in fact,  resides in a “home for old cowboys”. I particularly enjoyed the beard-growing efforts of Kevin, aged 14,  whose father told him he “didn’t have the chance of a pancake in a pigsty” however, in time his “few whiskers made up in length what they lacked in profusion”. Sounds just like the hairs on Dan’s chin!

The photo was taken out at our new place which is not in Wyoming, but the drought in eastern Australia is certainly making it look rather dry and barren.

Happy Reading!