This is a story about fraternal twins, Rahel Mol and Estha Mon, and how their lives have changed since their arrival of their cousin Sophie Mol from England. In this two-week period leading up to Sophie’s death, forbidden and bad things were done. It was bad and forbidden; in the context of the social relationships and interactions of the Kerala residents in 1969, in a postcolonial political era, accentuating communism, the caste system, and the Syrian Christian life.
Ammu, the twin’s mother, was desperate to escape the realities of her household and with the lack of dowry, she convinced her parents to send her to Calcutta to her aunt’s home. She met the twin’s father, married him, fell pregnant with the twins, gave birth to them, divorced and returned shamefully to her parents’ home in Ayemenem.
Chacko her brother, an Oxford-educated man, marries an English woman. They have a daughter together, Sophie. He divorces and returns home from England, to take care of the family pickle business since, Appu, his father’s death.
Baby Kochamma, is the Ammu’s maternal aunt. She remains unmarried and her forbidden and unrequited love is stereotypical of gossipy, keeping the family name decent through secrets and lies, bitter and spiteful spinster.
This was bad enough living in a world of taboos and forbidden acts, but these acts were bad and forbidden but not the worst acts that have been displayed as the secretive forbidden unfold themselves in the course of two weeks.
I have read this book 12 years ago and decided to pick it up to re-read. I am really glad I did read this book the second time around as I do not think I was able to fathom and digest what the book had to offer 12 years ago at maybe a less mature age on my part.
Firstly I would like to mention that Arundhati Roy is someone I would aspire to write like. Her writing is modern day classic with a mix equivalent to the classics by Charlotte Bronte and the poetic Epics Mahabharata and Odyssey. Dum Dum.
It is challenging for me to describe or review a book of this calibre, as Arundhati does not keep the story plot itself suspenseful. She gives off the plot throughout the book and repeats them every now and then and as the reader you will find that you can (almost) easily predict what will happen throughout the story, but I am stating my predictions as an Indian woman who already knows the background of this culture so possibly it may be different for other readers not of Indian descendent or resident. But she does have one or two surprises for the reader so don’t despair. With that being said, even those surprises left to end, was no surprise to me as it is common in the Indian culture so it depends on the reader itself.
The purpose of this book is not to give you a story but rather to dig deep into the psyche of the forbidden and to show you the threads that fabricate what is normal in some societies and taboo all at the same time, yet may be wrong in other cultures but not taboo, and highlights what is so wrong with the intricacies that is embedded in the laws of social cultures and superstitions and human fallacies.
Arundhati purposely slows the book down to a speed of paying attention to details. She showcases shards of convoluted thoughts, through the medium of words.
This excerpt from the book perfectly describes what I am trying to explain.
“...the secret of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets. The Great Stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don’t deceive you with thrills and trick endings. They don’t surprise you with the unforeseen. They are as familiar as the house you live in. Or the smell of your lover’s skin. You know how they end, yet you listen as though you don’t. In the way that although you know that one day you will die, you live as though you won’t. In the Great Stories you know who lives, who dies, who finds love, who doesn’t. And yet you want to know again.
That is their mystery and their magic.”
This is not a light read. You would have to pay attention to details and decipher the poetic connotations of the book. I really loved the book; both times I read it, the writing and how she just brings everything together.