Year 4 / Book 3: Family Life

3) Family Life by Akhil Sharma

I picked this up at the local charity shop, I think having read about Akhil Sharma’s A Life of Adventure & Delight (which is on the TBR pile) in some well-informed person’s recommendations list at some point in the not-too-distant past. So I knew little or nothing opening the book’s pages, and really didn’t know what to expect. What I found was a sparely, written and emotionally affecting tale of an Indian family relocating to America – it is told in the voice and through the eyes of the younger of the two brothers, and as the narrative unfurls, so his understanding grows and his character matures.

It is not a cheery tale – I won’t do spoilers (as I really recommend it) but suffice to say that a tragic thing befalls the family, and the novel deals in the majority with the fall out of that incident, and how it affects them all. This is woven in with the concept and reality of the American dream, the strain on a marriage under difficult circumstances, and how identity is forged, built and sustained.

Many years ago, I remember seeing a Korean film with a friend (Sympathy for Mr Vengeance or something), and afterwards describing it as ‘unremittingly bleak’. It got me a bit obsessed with describing things in two words…If I had to use two words to describe this book in two words, it would be ‘quietly devastating’. In a sense, as Sharma has himself written (in an article I recommend you read after the book), there is no plot as such – but the narrative is nevertheless propelled along, and is hugely emotionally engaging.

What impressed me most is Sharma’s ability to convey things so powerfully through such spare and seemingly simple use of language (though it is clearly immensely well-honed and refined). There is a meaningful tangent about Hemingway in the book which gives some indication of the power in contained prose that is achieved, though it ranges much more widely and has its own style and feel. All in all, highly recommended – can’t wait to dive into his short stories.

Score: 8/10

BUY IT NOW: Family Life

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