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3.9 out of 5 stars
Family Life
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
This slender novel not only hits home - it has also hit a home run. Akhil Sharma's tragi-comedy has recently been awarded the Folio prize for excellence in writing. It has been fourteen years since Akhil Sharma's debut, An Obedient Father. The answer as to why it has taken so long for his second book to reach us is perhaps contained in its semi-autobiographical pages.

When Ajay's accountant father sends airline tickets for his wife and two sons to join him in America, their whole Delhi neighbourhood comes out to celebrate the family's good fortune. Ajay is eight and can't quite believe this is really happening. As many an immigrant experience story has shown, the Mishras' new life in 'the land of opportunity' is a challenging one for them to navigate. But it is a devastating accident that changes everything more fundamentally for the Mishra family - and for Sharma's readers.

This is a deeply moving, funny, tragic, absorbing and brave account with an engagingly honest narrator. The author compels the reader to examine some of life's darker questions by leaving much unsaid and demonstrates here that less really can be more. A novel of 'distilled complexity' and 'deceptive simplicity' said the Folio judges. I agree.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 22 June 2014
loved the stark honesty the humanity and great life affirming qualities you feel you know and love this author and his family . when you get to the last page you are sad there is no more
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 11 May 2014
I read this book in two days. I was captivated to learn how this family would cope with their misfortune after such a time in their lives of great hopes of a future in a new land. I felt humbled by the way that the lives of all the individuals involved were changed forever, Akhil tried so hard to pretend that his life could not be changed by this tragedy. trying to find a girl friend was so amusing. what a wonderful ending, I am now ready to read another book by this inspiring story teller./
Thankyou Mr Sharma.
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on 25 July 2015
A poignantly written story about an Indian family who emigrates from Delhi to the US in the 1970s. Dad, Mishraji, goes first to find work and is followed by his wife, Shuba, and two boys, Birju and Ajay.

Their journey in the US starts in a one bedroom apartment in Queens. The boys, especially, are overwhelmed by all America has to offer from carpets to elevators to hot water from the tap. It is all an amazing adventure. Birju qualifies for a good school and all is looking rosy…

Then tragedy strikes. Birju, on a trip to an uncle and aunt in Arlington, dives into a swimming pool and cracks his head on the bottom. He almost dies, and ends up in a near coma in hospital. After some months the family moves to a house in New Jersey with a specially converted room for him (paid for with insurance money) – he remains severely handicapped. Ajay, the younger brother, feels deserted and almost orphaned with all the attention lavished on Birju. Dad, Mishraji, begins to drink and Shuba’s life becomes one of trying to keep face with the shame building up inside her and around her.

Eventually Ajay qualifies for Princeton and his life is good. Upon graduation he becomes an investment banker in New York and seven years later he marries. He lavishes money on his parents and Birju. All’s sort of well that ends well…

The story, as I have described it, is a pretty basic one. Immigrant family in the States succeeds after a few trials and tribulations along the way. What, though, absolutely makes the book is Akhil Sharma’s writing. His language, his empathy, and just his way of writing bring the story to life and make you feel you really know the characters. It is wry and it is observant. It is sad and it is happy. A book very well worth reading.
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Family Life is one of those books... not a huge amount really 'happens' in it, but you find yourself reading it, and suddenly you've finished. I couldn't write put my finger on if I enjoyed it or not, if I felt it was good or not. But the fact that I kept picking it up and reading, and did want to know what happened says it all really.

It's a story that I could identify with - an immigrant family, poor, from India, is brought over to America by their father. Two sons - the elder fits in more easily, excels, makes his parents proud. The younger always in his sibling's shadow. The first half tells the tale of their immigration and the period of them settling in and the boys starting school.

The second half suddenly kicks into a new gear as something happens that changes the whole family's life forever. I don't feel this is a spoiler, as the main reviews mention what happens, but an accident leaves Ajay's older brother Birju brain-damaged. This second half felt like a different book to me in many ways. All the cultural differences and implications I'd enjoyed reading about in the first half became a story about a family coping with disability, though for me the ways they coped didn't feel at al realistic - as a parent, I don't know if I would have taken the same route as Ajay's family.

It's an interesting and emotive story, with some very real-feeling characters in the Mishra family, as each copes in a different way, and Ajay comes to the fore to take his successful brother's place as the hope for the family's future. Though I didn't really like where the story ultimately took him, but that's just my own personal feeling about his eventual career path.

I also preferred Ajay's voice as a boy - the scenes in India as he prepares to emigrate and shares his feelings with his friends, and his first days in America trying to fit in, this voice I liked more than the mostly-grown Ajay, he's very well-narrated as a boy, quite like a Scout Finch.

It's a short read, and one that will make you think - what would YOU do if this happened in your family? I felt very sad at the end of the story, realising what the Mishras had gone through over the course of their lives, what they'd left behind and replaced it with, the fragility of life, though I also felt it missed out on making more of a point about disability and the fact that Birju has no quality of life.

One for book groups especially, but an interesting read about the immigrant experience and living with disability in the family.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 29 May 2014
A brilliant autobiographical novel about an Indian family's move to the USA. This is a moving, sometimes funny, often sad book which is an excellent example of brevity being very effective.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A moving book about an Indian family that moves to the States and then suffers a series of misfortunes in The Land of the Free that would fell an ox. The ending is a bit strange and not totally satisfying, hence the four stars instead of five.
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on 26 May 2015
How astonishing to give 12 years of your life to writing a novel which is in many ways your own story, the story of your childhood, and then for it to come out so brief and perfect, such true art. The voice, to begin with, is utterly believable, but also exceptional - funny, intelligent, right: the feelings of a child about his brother's disability and his parents' devastation, and his normal childhood going on alongside. The comic set-pieces are another part of what makes the book a joy, Hemmingway, the healers. But the single sentences which convey here and there the heart of the story always catch one off guard. A masterly writer.
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on 19 May 2015
One of the most touching books I've read in recent times. Akhil Sharma does not ask for sympathy, yet he draws it out of you and tears your heart as he conveys the loneliness, hopelessness and despair of the family's situation, and how a little boy must give up his childhood in order to adjust to circumstances that life has thrust upon him. Powerful and heartbreaking.
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on 16 June 2015
This novel is a gem, the brilliantly pared down prose heavy with tragedy and absurdity. I cried when Ajay wanted to screw wooden squirrels onto the side of his parents' new house to make it look as if they were climbing up towards the roof. I recently read that it took Akhil Sharma twelve years to write this novel - it shows, every sentence is perfect and I am very glad he gave up investment banking to focus on writing.
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