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An Obedient Father by Akhil Sharma

An Obedient Father (2000)

by Akhil Sharma

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** spoiler alert **

I added this to my reading list ages ago and since I read Akhil Sharma's Family Life recently, I thought I might as well read this. And now that I have, I almost wish I hadn't.

The story is disturbing, to say the least. The main character is an aging corrupt politician (corrupt politician - isn't that redundant in India?) who repeatedly committed a horrific crime (rape) against his daughter years ago for which he was never really punished. And the book goes into detail on that. To say it was difficult to read is an understatement.

Somehow, as the story progresses, the author almost makes you feel bad for this monster, which is incredible. You catch yourself feeling these feelings, and then think, what the hell am I thinking?!

The book also weaves in some major political events in India's history, which is an interesting angle. As bad as that is in itself, I guess it gives you a break from the above-mentioned sordid details.

The effects of the man's crime on his daughter and then his granddaughter and the ripple effects this has just made this even more depressing. Especially in light of India's culture of "what will people say" and the effects on women. Ugh, this book is a tough read and not for the faint of heart.

(I'm struggling with the rating because I think the book was well-written but the story itself...) ( )
  preetalina | Oct 6, 2015 |
This was a difficult book for me to read. But Sharma’s writing pulled me into a very sad story. A father in India molests his young daughter. As a young widow with a young daughter of her own, financial poverty forces Anita to return to living with her father. Her fear and anger at her father overflows especially when she sees him rubbing against his granddaughter as the granddaughter sleeps. Ram knows he was wrong, but can he make amends? It is a sad touch story about the past which Ram had hoped had been forgotten. ( )
  brangwinn | Jan 14, 2015 |
So you won't end up in a book where you might not want to be, know that in this book a father sexually abuses his daughter, and then, when he is an old man and unwell, that same daughter abuses him. So it deals with very dark matters indeed. Over the course of the novel many themes and questions emerge. What are the limits of forgiveness? Is it even possible? Can good deeds make up for bad? Is it possible to be good when the world about you is irredeemably corrupt?

Akhil Sharma is drawn to these dark stories. In both his novels, An Obedient Father and Family Life, horrific events tear apart families. I found, though, that the most effective element of this story had nothing to do with the abysmal family history. Rather it was the suspenseful tension generated by Mr. Karan's living off the spoils of political corruption while all the time being threatened by its brutish caprice. Sharma manages Karan's navigation of this claustrophobic terrain so well. Given how wonderfully he writes, one wishes, vainly, that his focus might someday shift away from such grim plots. ( )
  maritimer | May 21, 2014 |
An Obedient Father is a superbly written, enthralling and deeply disturbing story. Sharma's characters alternately inspire pity and disgust. As in real life, they are neither purely good or purely evil, but beautifully human in their fragility. Thus, while we feel disgust for the abuser, we also feel empathy. And, while we feel empathy for the abused, we also feel disgust.

I feel I should warn readers that there are a few descriptions of sexual abuse in this book that are disturbingly realistic and this book is an emotional roller-coaster. Having said that, I believe this is the best-written book I have read in a while and I will definitely watching for more books by this author. ( )
  seldombites | Aug 4, 2009 |
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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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:46 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

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.… (more)

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