Yes, the Booker Prize winner in 1997. I simply loved it. After reading Aravind Adiga's 'The White Tiger' which won the same award in 2008, I had the feeling that the book did not really deserve the award. There was not even a single page or part in the book that I found worthy of such an honorable award. But Arundhathi Roy really nailed it. She has beautifully portrayed a realistic story, that touches the heart of every reader. A well-written touching story. Another reason why I could have found the story compelling could be because like Arundhati, I am also a Malayali, the kind who has lived in the state for too long to be able to relate to every word mentioned in the book. The lifestyle, the culture, the perception, everything in the story truly portray the real Kerala. As a proud Malayali, I would want to accept the depictions in the book as truly representing Kerala. Adding to that, are the beautifully interspersed Malayalam words and dialogues that invoke in the reader a feeling of actually being part of the story.
Her writing style is quite unique, the kind I'm not quite comfortable with, which is also what interests me the most. The story just moves back and forth in time and if you lose track of where you are, you might end up losing track of the entire story. But this style also compels you to read the story continuously without any breaks in between. If you stop in between and try to continue later on, you would find it difficult to get back on track as the situations are not in the right chronological order, they keep coming and going. So the reader will have to get to the end of the story to be able to fully connect all the loosely scattered but coherent situations into a single story-line.
I think the story is quite simple; there is nothing unique in the story - The story of a typical Syrian Catholic family from Ayemanam in the Kottayam district of Kerala, at a time when untouchability was still quite prevalent in Kerala, even after it had been long abolished. The rise and growth of communism as a prominent political party in Kerala has also been touched upon. The novel is about a family consisting of Pappachan, Mammachi, their daugher Ammu, Pappachi's sister, Baby Kochamma, her son Chacko and the events surrounding them, is the basic theme of the novel; there is nothing fictitious or unbelievable in the story.
Ammu, a divorcee with a pair of fraternal twins, a son and a daughter - Estha and Rahel, falls in love with a lower-caste (Paravan) but highly skilled and intelligent man named Velutha. Baby Kochamma's son Chacko gets educated from Oxford, marries a foreigner, Margaret. He initially hides his marriage from his parents, but due to poor financial situation, he ends up telling them. Soon after, he is blessed with a daughter, Sophie. Then he starts getting rifts in his relationship with Margaret, which ultimately leads to their separation, with Chacko returning to Ayemanam. Margaret Kochamma's second husband Joe, dies suddenly in a car crash and Chacko invites his shattered and heart-broken ex-wife and daughter to spend their Christmas at Ayemanam.
A lot of happenings in the mean time and everything ends with Sophiemol's death by drowning and Velutha's brutal murder at the hands of police. Estha, as a child, is sent to his father in Calcutta much against Ammu's wish. And Ammu ends up dying in a hotel room where she had gone to find a job. Chacko migrates to Canada; Rahel migrates to America, where she eventually gets married and then divorced. It is finally after almost 23 years that the twins meet each other. They share this unique tie where they strongly feel that they are one. Even though they don't talk much, in the depths of their hearts, they understood each other's emotions and feelings, like no one else ever could. Finally, they couldn't help but be one.
The novel is a typical Malayalam story, the kind that regularly happens in many a families across Kerala, even now - the daughter loving a lower caste man who ultimately gets killed at the hands of rogues or police due to the influence of the girl's family, children getting drowned in the river during flood and rainy season etc. So, for a Keralite, the story doesn't convey any uniqueness or novelty. But what I got hooked to was the narrative style and they way in which all these instances have been expertly linked in the story. Even the uncommon relationship between the twins is expressed in a subtle but powerful manner. Similarly, the relationship between Velutha and Ammu. The style of narration is so compelling in terms of expertly grafting the various periods in time, into a coherent story line is amazing. As I have already mentioned, if you leave a gap in reading, you completely lose track of the chronology. Arundhati Roy has truly proved her mettle as a good story teller, by converting an otherwise normal story into an extra-ordinary one. And for that she deserved tverting an otherwise normal story into an extra-ordinary one. And for that she deserved to be crediteo be credited.
I loved it, you would love it too. Give Arundhati Roy a chance.