November 23, 2014

Akhil Sharma Weaves a Winsome Web of Despair in his Semi-Autobiographical Novel "Family Life".

I read an excerpt from Akhil Sharma's new novel "Family Life" in the New Yorker a while ago, and right then I knew that I wanted to read more of his writings; it was so distinctly different. As a result, I added Akhil Sharma on my starred 'to read' list.

Luckily for me, only a few months thereafter, someone presented me a signed copy of Akhil Sharma's  "Family Life"  bought at an 'AuthorReading' event in NYC. This is what that someone said when he gifted me this book: "He writes immigrant stories, and the reading session of his I attended was very impressive. The story is semi autobiographical and sad, but it appears to be different." There again it was the 'different' in Sharma that had gotten through.

 "Family Life" is indeed different in that it has a stagnant plot, and yet, the story is captivating. Though told in the most simplistic and matter-of-fact way, it sucks the reader into an emotional whirlpool almost with a Naipaulian √©lan. The readers are so drawn to every character in the story that there is empathy for each one of them despite their frequent mean and hurtful exchanges. Only a master writer could accomplish such a feat: to get the reader to understands and even admire a mother who emotionally orphans her younger child by blinding herself to his needs while he is growing up in a foreign country, and to not hate a father who brings his young wife and two young sons to a foreign land only to become an alcoholic in the face of a humongous tragedy.  Even the narrator, oftentimes a mean and foul mouthed younger brother who taunts his paralyzed and brain-damaged older brother by calling him names, is endearing to the reader! How does Sharma manage to do this all within a compact 200 page novel told in the voice of a young adult.  I loved each one of his characters, and even though they drew me into their all encompassing despair, I was but a willing participant who didn't want to let go. Sharma's deceptively simple narrative, a loom of lure, wove a magic of despair around me, and, quite like Ajay, the narrator, I too didn't realize I "had a problem" until the very end!

Akhil Sharma's novel "Family Life" is a must read, and it isn't just an 'immigrant story'; it's a saga of pain, loss, and helplessness in a foreign land.

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