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The story primarily takes place in a town named Ayemenem now part of Kottayam in Kerala state of India. The temporal setting shifts back and forth from 1969, when Rahel and Estha, a set of fraternal twins are 7 years old, to 1993, when the twins are reunited at age 31. Much of the story is written in a viewpoint sympathetic to the 7-year-old children. Malayalam words are liberally used in conjunction with English. Prominent facets of Kerala life that the novel captures are Communism, the caste system, and the Syrian Christian way of life.