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Family Life: A Novel Paperback – February 2, 2015
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*Starred Review* If the first rule of strong writing is, show, don’t tell (and it is), Sharma is a grand master, a black belt, an Olympic champion. Via the spare, guileless voice of protagonist Ajay Mishra, we travel the entire 7,000-mile journey from New Delhi to New York in his shoes as his family—father, mother, brother Birju, and he—arrives and settles in America. There is the joyous, even hopeful dispensing of household goods and favorite toys that can’t make the plane trip. The surprised delight of reading the exotic ingredients on the labels of canned goods in American supermarkets. The breathless anticipation of Birju’s acceptance into a prestigious prep school. Then, after Birju suffers a tragic accident, the suctioning from their lives of all that hope, joy, delight, and anticipation. This is not just the double-whammy smack of reality á la strangers in a strange land. It is a multiple-whammy, full-body smackdown that ramps up the bizarreness of their new world by adding tragic, harrowing circumstances. As extreme as the family’s misfortunes become, Sharma’s seemingly effortless prose transcends any disbelief, and his characters and their experiences will linger in the mind’s recesses long after the last page is read. --Donna Chavez --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
“Outstanding…Every page is alive and surprising, proof of [Sharma’s] huge, unique talent.”
- David Sedaris
“Riveting… Sharma is compassionate but unflinching.”
- Sonali Deraniyagala, The New York Times Book Review
“Dark humor twines through Sharma’s unforgettable story of survival and its costs.”
- Mary Pols, People
“Surface simplicity and detachment are the hallmarks of this novel, but hidden within its small, unembellished container are great torrents of pity and grief. Sedulously scaled and crafted, it transforms the chaos of trauma into a glowing work of art.”
- The Wall Street Journal
“I lost all track of time while I was reading it, and felt by the end that I’d returned from a great and often harrowing journey… To my own surprise, I found myself renewed after reading it, and imbued with a feeling of hope.”
- John Wray, Salon
“Sharma spent 13 years writing this slim novel, and the effort shows in each lucid sentence and heartbreaking detail.”
- Stephen Lee, Entertainment Weekly
“A heartbreaking novel-from-life… [Sharma] takes after Hemingway, as each word of his brilliant novel feels deliberate, and each line is quietly moving.”
- Maddie Crum, Huffington Post
“There's nothing like the pleasure of being devastated by a short novel. Like Jhumpa Lahiri, Akhil Sharma writes of the Indian immigrant experience with great empathy and a complete lack of sentimentality. Family Life is a dark and thrilling accomplishment by a wildly gifted writer.”
- Ann Packer
“Family Life is a terse, devastating account of growing up as a brilliant outsider in American culture. It is a nearly perfect novel.”
- Edmund White
“Sharma is a rare master at charting the frailties and failures, the cruelties and rages, the altering moods and contradictions, whims and perversities of a tragic cast of characters. But this most unsentimental writer leaves the reader, finally and surprisingly, moved.”
- Kiran Desai
“An immigrant story like no other: funny and dark, unrelenting and above all, true.”
- Nell Freudenberger
Top customer reviews
Ajay is a child when the tragedy occurs. In wry twists he admits his occasional resentment of the tragedy. Other times he reveals an unsavory hunger to be the celebrity brother of fate. Yet overall he cares deeply for his family. Sometimes he speaks with a God dressed in contemporary clothing. He finds no answers there, "Even if I told you something, I might change my mind." Cast adrift, Ajay discovers that a life devoted writing is possible, and the world changes for him.
Ajay takes the reader with him, and the reader cannot but help feeling great affection for this young boy. His speech is darkly humorous at times. He can be selfish and he can be be grandiose. But all of his thoughts carry the authenticity of a person being strictly honest with himself. The author achieves this without stooping to preciousness or drama. Somehow even in the everyday, the story holds us enmeshed with the reality of life after a fatal three minutes changes everything.
Having lived in the US for decades, one would expect Akhil Sharma to write an American novel, more so because it all happened in that country, but once you are past few pages you know it`s essentially an Indian story told by a boy as if he was schooled in vernacular medium. The naivety, I think is intentional and this is why it punches straight.
Sharma took more than 7000 pages and 12 years to write the story but finally when it was published it had some 250 pages. He said in one interview that it was a catharsis for him to write the book. When one considers what would be like living with an elder brother who had turned neurologically vegetable following an head injury since early childhood, it`s not surprising to understand his plight. His elder brother lived for thirty years in this state and died only a couple of years before the book was published in 2014.
In a sense it`s a memoir, but Sharma declined to label it so. He admitted though the story indeed was his and his brain damaged elder brother, he preferred to write a fiction to take the liberty of laughing at himself.
I yawned few times when the every mundane details of daily life was described, but apart from that the story was engaging though most of it was sad and dark with parents quarrelling, father turning alcoholic and miracle healers failing to cure the incurable brain- crippled boy one by one. Only the Meenakshi episode, though the author didn't give it the anticipated due, was like a breath of fresh air. I won`t say it`s one novel I will like to read again, but will definitely want people to read it once, not for the story but for the ease of reading and become aware of that stories could be written without pretensions and showing people that you are so well read.
Most recent customer reviews
This book was depressing and the writing felt stilted.Read more