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An Obedient Father (2000)
by Akhil Sharma
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0156012030, Paperback)Readers opening this first novel from Akhil Sharma find themselves face to face with a wildly unappealing main character. Ram Karan is a corrupt civil servant, chubby and self-hating. "I had been Mr. Gupta's moneyman for a little less than a year and was no good." Ram has no illusions about his failings: "My panic in negotiations was so apparent that even people who were eager to bribe me became resentful." Things at home aren't so hot either: Ram's wife has recently died, as has his son-in-law, and so his daughter Anita and granddaughter, Asha, have moved in with him. The first chapter of An Obedient Father is lugubrious and oily and awkward, like its narrator; then suddenly the whole thing breaks wide open. Drunk one night, Ram touches Asha with his penis. Anita walks in, and the family's secret is out all at once, like a just-freed, very angry cat: Ram forced Anita to have sex with him repeatedly when she was 12.
Sharma, a Delhi-born New York investment banker, has written a novel that's satisfyingly ambitious and full of really lovely imagery (tulips, for instance, are "heavy-hearted"). He squares Ram's downfall in the context of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. As India descends into political turmoil, Ram is made accountable for corruption both at work and at home. What gives the book its engine is its even-tempered handling of Ram himself: he is always complex, never a moral lesson or a villain. By the time Anita exacts her quietly devilish revenge, we feel neither glee nor pity, just sadness. Sharma doesn't have perfect control of his material--the transitions between personal and political can be abrupt, the tension between father and daughter unravels sloppily. Still, this is a new voice of great subtlety and care. --Claire Dederer
(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:44:14 -0400)
Corrosive, funny, and frightening--one of the year's most absorbing first novels "My general incompetence and laziness at work had been apparent for so long that I now think it was arrogant of Mr. Gupta to pick me as his money man. I am the type of person who does not make sure that a file includes all the pages it must have or that the pages are in the right order. I refuse to accept even properly placed blame, lying outright that somebody else misplaced the completed forms or spilled tea on them, even though I was the last one to sign them out, or had the soggy papers still on my desk." As an inspector for the Physical Education Department in the Delhi school system, Ram Karan supports his widowed daughter and eight-year-old granddaughter by collecting bribes for a small-time Congress Party boss. On the eve of Rajiv Gandhi's assassination, one reckless act bares the lifetime of violence and sexual shame behind Ram's dingy public career and involves him in a farcical, but terrifying, political campaign that could cost him his life. An astonishing character study, a portrait of a family--and a country--tormented by the past, An Obedient Father recalls Dostoyevsky's guilt-ridden anti-heroes in a debut that is also as fully formed as The Moviegoer.
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