Wednesday, September 23, 2015

book review: Family Life by Akhil Sharma

The backstory: Family Life won the 2015 Folio Prize and was named one of the 5 best books of 2014 by The New York Times.

The basics:  "We meet the Mishra family in Delhi in 1978, where eight-year-old Ajay and his older brother Birju play cricket in the streets, waiting for the day when their plane tickets will arrive and they and their mother can fly across the world and join their father in America. America to the Mishras is, indeed, everything they could have imagined and more: when automatic glass doors open before them, they feel that surely they must have been mistaken for somebody important. Pressing an elevator button and the elevator closing its doors and rising, they have a feeling of power at the fact that the elevator is obeying them. Life is extraordinary until tragedy strikes, leaving one brother severely brain-damaged and the other lost and virtually orphaned in a strange land. Ajay, the family’s younger son, prays to a God he envisions as Superman, longing to find his place amid the ruins of his family’s new life."--publisher

My thoughts: I knew very little going into Family Life. It begins as a conventional immigrant coming of age story. When tragedy strikes (early on), I was shocked. It was a very different novel after that moment, which of course mimics the Mishra family's life as very different.

As I read, I was wowed by Sharma's precision in describing characters:
"My father is two years older than my mother. Unlike her, he saw dishonesty and selfishness everywhere. Not only did he see these things but he believed that everybody else did, too, and that they were deliberately not acknowledging what they saw. My mother’s irritation at his spitting blood, he interpreted as hypocrisy."
This novel is slim, but Sharma covers a lot of ground, both in story and time. While telling the story from Ajay's perspective offers some fascinating insights and emotions, at times I wanted windows into the thoughts and feelings of the Mishras. I've since read that this novel is somewhat autobiographical. Sharma's older brother had an accident in a swimming pool and died three years ago, after being bedridden for thirty years. Reflecting on the novel as Sharma writing from his own perspective is interesting, and I wish I would have known the backstory as I read. 

The verdict: Family Life is a haunting coming of age story. Sharma's writing is precise and cutting, and I'm eager to read his previous novel and will eagerly await his next one.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 240 pages
Publication date: April 7, 2014
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Family Life from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

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1 comment:

  1. No surprise - you've read another book that I've had my eye on. Glad to read your review. Sounds like one to bump up the list.


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