Community Read: #TheGodofSmallThingsat25 (July 2022)

ONLINE EVENT: JULY 24, 2022

Introductory Note

[From the host, Naheed Phiroze Patel]

Twenty five years ago, shortly after Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things was published, it won the 1997 Booker Prize. It created a powerful tempest that forever changed the prevailing order of the international literary world, much to the joy and benefit of writers from the global south.

A saying attributed to Dostoevsky goes, “We all came out of Gogol’s overcoat.” But some of us came out of the house in Ayemenem, “the old house on the hill that wore its steep, gabled roof pulled over its ears like an old hat.” Roy’s novel provided many of us a cornerstone in building our own oeuvre.

So, starting on July 10th, 2022, I’m organizing a Community Read in partnership with Desi Books to honor twenty-five years of a beloved book by a much beloved author. Participants are invited to share their responses to the novel on Twitter and Instagram using #TheGodofSmallThingsat25. Let’s start a generative, questioning, syncretic, and inclusive conversation about the legacy of Roy’s novel—both the good and the bad.

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Reading Calendar

I invite you to read a chapter a day, and share your thoughts and responses with everyone. Remember to use the hashtag #TheGodofSmallThingsat25 so that we are able to collect the best responses in a weekly roundup on the Desi Books website and newsletter. We will complete our reading no later than July 30th, 2022. The reading will conclude with a Zoom webinar by authors and professors discussing the novel’s influence on South Asian writing, and also how it has shaped the conversation around cultural essentialism in determining what we have been, so far, permitted to write about by the dominant literary ecosystem.

Catch up with the weekly digest newsletter updates here: Week 1; Week 2.

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About the Book

The year is 1969. In the state of Kerala, on the southernmost tip of India, a skyblue Plymouth with chrome tailfins is stranded on the highway amid a Marxist workers’ demonstration. Inside the car sit two-egg twins Rahel and Esthappen, and so begins their tale…. Armed only with the invincible innocence of children, they fashion a childhood for themselves in the shade of the wreck that is their family – their lonely, lovely mother, Ammu (who loves by night the man her children love by day), their blind grandmother, Mammachi (who plays Handel on her violin), their beloved uncle Chacko (Rhodes scholar, pickle baron, radical Marxist, bottom-pincher), their enemy, Baby Kochamma (ex-nun and incumbent grandaunt), and the ghost of an imperial entomologist’s moth (with unusually dense dorsal tufts). When their English cousin, Sophie Mol, and her mother, Margaret Kochamma, arrive on a Christmas visit, Esthappen and Rahel learn that Things Can Change in a Day. That lives can twist into new, ugly shapes, even cease forever, beside their river “graygreen. With fish in it. With the sky and trees in it. And at night, the broken yellow moon in it.”

Source: Publisher description

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About the Author

Arundhati Roy was born in 1960 in Kerala, India. She studied architecture at the Delhi School of Architecture and worked as a production designer. She has written two screenplays, including Electric Moon (1992), commissioned by Channel 4 television. She lives in Delhi with her husband, the film-maker Pradip Krishen.

The God of Small Things, her first novel, won the Booker Prize for Fiction in 1997 and has sold over six million copies worldwide. An immediate bestseller, the novel was published simultaneously in 16 languages and 19 countries, but caused controversy in India for the description of a love affair between a Syrian Christian and a Hindu ‘untouchable’. Set in Ayemenem in Kerala, a rural province in southern India, it is the story of two twins, Estha and Rahel, their reunion after 23 years apart and their shared memories of the events surrounding the accidental death of their English cousin, Sophie Mol, in 1969.

She is also the author of several non-fiction books, including: The Cost of Living (1999), a highly critical attack on the Indian government for its handling of the controversial Narmada Valley dam project and for its nuclear testing program; Power Politics (2001), a book of essays; and The Algebra of Infinite Justice, a collection of journalism. The Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire was published in 2004. She has since published a further collection of essays examining the dark side of democracy in contemporary India, Listening to Grasshoppers: Field Notes on Democracy (2009).

Arundhati Roy was awarded the Lannan Prize for Cultural Freedom in 2003. Her latest book is The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (2017), her second novel. It was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and, in the US, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Source: The British Council

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About the Host

Naheed Phiroze Patel is a graduate of the MFA program at Columbia University’s School of the Arts. She is the author of Mirror Made of Rain published by Unnamed Press in 2022 and HarperCollins India in 2021. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in the New England Review, LitHub, The Guardian, HuffPost, Scroll.in, BOMB Magazine, Public Books, PEN America, The Rumpus, EuropeNow Journal, Asymptote Journal, and elsewhere.

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How to Prepare

1) In the US: Support your local indie bookstore by purchasing a copy of The God of Small Things here or an audiobook here.

2) Spread the word! Let’s make this a real movement to honor Arundhati Roy’s activism, her community building, and her quiet, unflinching resistance in the face of creeping totalitarianism.

3) Use the hashtag #TheGodofSmallThingsat25 on social media so we can collect and share on your thoughts about the book.

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Webinar Panelists

(in alphabetical order)

Anjali Enjeti is an organizer, journalist, and MFA instructor. She is the author of Southbound: Essays on Identity, Inheritance, and Social Change, and The Parted Earth. Her other writing has appeared in the Boston Globe, Oxford American, Harper’s Bazaar, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and elsewhere. A 2022 recipient of the Georgia Author of the Year Award, she lives with her family near Atlanta, GA.

Anita Felicelli is the author of Chimerica: A Novel and the short story collection Love Songs for a Lost Continent, which won the 2016 Mary Roberts Rinehart Fiction Award. Her short stories have appeared in the Massachusetts ReviewAir/LightAlta, Midnight Breakfast, and other places. Her criticism and essays have appeared in the Los Angeles Review of BooksAlta, the San Francisco ChronicleSlateSalon, and the New York Times (Modern Love). She is the editor of Alta’s California Book Club and the 2022 Fiction Committee Chair for the National Book Critics Circle. She lives in the Bay Area with her spouse and three children. 

Torsa Ghosal is the author of a book of literary criticism, Out of Mind (Ohio State University Press), and an experimental novella, Open Couplets (Yoda Press, India). Her fiction, personal essays, and interviews have appeared in Berkeley Fiction Review, Catapult, Los Angeles Review of Books, Literary Hub, Bustle, and elsewhere. She is an assistant professor of English at California State University, Sacramento, and a host of the Narrative for Social Justice podcast. Tweets: @TorsaG. IG: @torsa_ghosal.

Madhushree Ghosh’s debut food narrative memoir, KHABAAR: An Immigrant Journey of Food, Memory, and Family was published by the University of Iowa Press (@uiowapress) in April 2022. Her work has been a Notable Mention in Best American Essays in Food Writing, Pushcart nominated and published in The New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, The Writer, Longreads, Catapult, BOMB, Guernica, LA Review of Books, LitHub, and others. She works in oncology diagnostics and can be reached at @writemadhushree and her website. (Photo credit: Natalie Joy Mitchell Photography)

Devi S. Laskar is the author of The Atlas of Reds and Blues, winner of 7th annual Crook’s Corner Book Prize (2020) for best debut novel set in the South, winner of the 2020 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature & finalist for the Northern California Book awards. Her second novel, Circa, was published May 3, 2022, by Mariner Books. Her third novel, Midnight, At The War will be published by Mariner in early 2024. She holds degrees from Columbia University, University of Illinois, and UNC-CH. A native of Chapel Hill, N.C., she now lives in California with her family.

Meher Manda is a poet, short story writer, journalist, and educator originally from Mumbai, India, currently based in New York City. She earned her MFA in fiction from the College of New Rochelle where she was the founding editor-in-chief of The Canopy Review. She is the author of the chapbook Busted Models (No, Dear / Small Anchor, 2019), and her work has been published or is forthcoming in The Margins, Barren Magazine, Los Angeles Review, Sporklet, Hobart Pulp, Peach Mag, Catapult, Epiphany, Cosmonauts Avenue, and elsewhere. She was a fellow of the Rad(ical) Poetry Consortium at DreamYard and a Best New Poets and Best of the Net Anthology nominee. She co-creates the political graphic novel, Jamun Ka Ped.

Vijaya Nagarajan is an Associate Professor in the Department of Theology/Religious Studies and in the Program of Environmental Studies at the University of San Francisco. Her book, Feeding a Thousand Souls: Women, Ritual and Ecology in India—An Exploration of the Kolam delves into gender, art, ritual, climate, and ethics. Awarded the Women’s Studies in Religion Fellowship at Harvard University, the Fulbright, American Institute of Indian Studies, the NEH Chair, the Davies Chair, she has also been awarded residencies at the Mesa Refuge Writing Residency and the Djerrassi Writing Residency.  She has been a frequent writer on dailydosedeal.com and been published in the Brick Literary Journal (Toronto), Whole Earth Review, among others.

Vandana Pawa is a community focused writer and educator, currently working on the programs team at the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, running fellowships, public events, and arts education outreach. She is also a writer focused on a variety of beats, from style and beauty to music and television. You can find her bylines in Teen Vogue, tmrw magazine, Catapult magazine, and more. Vandana is also a part-time Indian classical dancer training in Kathak, and a full-time K-Pop fangirl.

Malavika Praseed is the host of Your Favorite Book, a podcast focused on highlighting the diverse literary influences of writers and readers alike. She is also a longtime contributor and book reviewer for the Chicago Review of Books. Her short fiction has been published in Khoreo, Plain China, Re:Visions, and elsewhere. She holds degrees from the University of Notre Dame and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. She is based in the Chicago area and works as a genetic counselor. Twitter: @yfbpodcast Instagram: @yfbpodcast.

More panelist details coming shortly.

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Some Frequently Asked Questions

1) Is this open to readers from anywhere in the world or just the US?

The community read is open to readers all over the world!

2) Will the moderated Zoom panel be live with an audience or a recorded session for playback later? If live, where and when will the link be provided for sign up?

Ideally, we would love to have a moderated live zoom panel with a Q&A portion for the audience, as well as a recorded session for playback. We are working on setting up an Eventbrite page with a registration link and awaiting confirmation of dates from our panelists. Watch this space for more!

3) Where can readers send in questions for the Zoom panelists if they’re not able to attend due to time issues?

Once we have finalized the registration link, there will be more information on how to send questions. 

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Select Reader Responses

ICYMI, the panel closing the community read for #TheGodofSmallThingsat25, organized by @NaheedPhiroze, is now on YouTube via @DesiBooks🙂🎙️
@devislaskar @meherness @AnitaFelicelli @AnjaliEnjeti @vandanaiscool @yfbpodcast @WriteMadhushree #VijayaNagarajan
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0OGRyQqRtGQ

If you missed the Zoom panel discussion for #TheGodofSmallThingsat25 last Sunday, catch up here. Hosted by @NaheedPhiroze and featuring a great roster of panelists and audience members. https://buff.ly/3JergG8

"Just a quiet handing-over ceremony. A boat spilling its cargo. A river accepting the offering."
#Chapter16 #TheGodofSmallThingsat25

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