July 14, 1997 12:00 PM

by Arundhati Roy

Rahel, a young Indian woman divorced from her American husband, returns to her home in the south Indian state of Kerala to visit her twin brother, from whom she was separated as a child, and to confront the mysterious tragedy that tore their family apart. So begins Roy’s lushly romantic first novel, a book that keeps surprising us with its embrace of the contradictions of Rahel’s world. This is a society in which ancient caste prejudices clash with communist politics; an abused, submissive wife founds a successful pickle empire; and an unmarried great-aunt, the guardian of family tradition, watches Hulk Hogan on satellite TV.

As the novel moves toward a series of revelations about the night a little girl drowned and an innocent man was murdered, the tone turns feverish and the plot reveals shaky underpinnings. Roy, whose book is being compared to the early work of Salman Rushdie, shares Rushdie’s over-the-top intoxication with language and his wondrous imagination. Despite minor flaws, The God of Small Things suggests that Roy has the resources—and the material—for an auspicious career. (Random House, $23)

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