Transnational Literature (2017-05-01)

How to Write Home: (Un)Mapping the Politics of Place and Authorial Responsibility with Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things

  • Kelly Palmer

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 9, no. 2

Abstract

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Arundhati Roy’s 1997 Man Booker Prize-winning novel, The God of Small Things, was harshly criticised by Indian and international scholars alike for misrepresenting the cultural landscape of 1970s Kerala and greater India. Such criticisms deny Roy’s authority to represent Indian culture, and her right to speak of or accurately represent her birthplace. This essay draws from Roy’s first and only novel as a case study of place-based writing and its reception, then asks: can a responsibility to place or home ever be met in the genre of autoethnographic fiction? The first section of this essay surveys criticisms of Roy’s Kerala and reveals how transgressive place-based fiction can magnify negative stereotypes of a given culture. The second section investigates literature as a material artefact of place with value to sociology and cultural studies more broadly, thus situating the author as a social actor. Throughout, I reflect on my own autoethnographic writing practice, and devise questions about my personal onus to represent a fictionalised home that has the potential to (re)shape Southeast Queensland in the cultural imagination.

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