This book tells the story of a well-off Syrian Christian family in Kerala, India, over the course of 23 years, starting in 1969. The main characters are fraternal twins whose lives are forever impacted by a tragedy that occurs when they are 7 years old. Political unrest and a rigid society that does not allow people to overstep the set boundaries form the backdrop.
First of all and most importantly, Roy has a fantastic grasp of language. She uses it effortlessly in the most unusual ways to set the stage, in fact, it’s almost as if she invented a new language just for this book. I admit that it took me some time to get used to it, but once I did, it was magic. The story is not chronologically told, instead we learn of the beginning and the outcome first, but the details and the catalyst that led to all this are revealed last. I thought that this was done masterfully, because at first the focus is wide and then becomes narrower and narrower until you arrive at a pinpoint. This kind of structure underlines the inevitability of the outcome, since no deviation is possible. Due to this I felt that it actually served an important purpose.
The society the protagonists live in is unforgiving and Roy is unflinching in her depiction of it. A woman is at one time told by her brother that “what’s yours is mine and what’s mine is also mine,” and when she goes to the police at another time, the policeman humiliates her instead of taking her statement. The local paediatrician is a known molester of women, and domestic violence is rampant. Women, however, are not the only ones who suffer, the caste of the Untouchables is horribly discriminated against. Roy describes all the injustice matter-of-factly and with her beautiful language, and maybe that is why it has such an impact; I felt as helpless and resigned as the characters themselves.
In general, it’s a tragic tale, all the characters seem to be unlucky in life and especially love, and the climax is an unmitigated disaster for everyone. Impending doom and its inevitability hang over the story like a dark cloud, and there is only little humour to lighten the mood. It’s a great book, but one that doesn’t pull its punches; nonetheless, it’s definitely worth the pain.