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Family Life (2014)

by Akhil Sharma

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4542239,362 (3.4)37
Finally joining their father in America, Ajay and Birju enjoy their new, extraordinary life until tragedy strikes, leaving one brother incapacitated and the other practically orphaned in this strange land.
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    Bed by David Whitehouse (akblanchard)
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Showing 1-5 of 22 (next | show all)
This is an amazing book. The prose are so tender, startling in their brevity. The author details a life of immense pain, longing and lonliness. Throughout the humanity of the characters brings about a sense of healing and acceptance within the family, which can be understood by all those who have known suffering. ( )
  Chrissylou62 | Aug 1, 2020 |
It’s the late 1970s, and Ajay Mishra and his family are Indian immigrants to the United States. Soon after Ajay’s older brother Birju is accepted to a prestigious prep school in the Bronx, he has an accident at a swimming pool and becomes immobile and unable to communicate, requiring full-time care. After the traumatic event and ensuing financial difficulties, Ajay’s father begins to drink heavily.

The inevitable process of Americanization tugs at Ajay as he tries to fit in at school. But pulling him in the opposite direction are the strong cultural mores and class divisions that persist among the other Indian immigrants with whom the Mishras primarily associate. Ajay’s behavior at school becomes obnoxious - he boasts and lies and insults others - and consequently he has difficulty making friends, despite being in the top of his class academically.

Sharma writes like a more emotionally adept Hemingway (and in fact he gives Ajay a temporary obsession with Hemingway’s style and his faults). The author uses short, swift, plain strokes to uncover personal and societal hypocrisy, cruelty, and contradiction. With rare self-awareness (almost unbelievable at times, but it works because older Ajay is writing from his already-came-of-age perspective), Ajay lays bare his own mixed emotions and motives about taking care of Birju, finding a girlfriend, being a good son, and going to AA meetings with his father. (Although he is glad his father decides to stop drinking, he finds the vulnerability of the alcoholics at the meetings unseemly and weak.) Without any complaint from the narrator, I found myself angry with his family, especially his mother, for setting him up to feel like he can never do anything right, can never be happy.

In turns hilarious and heartbreaking - and with a humdinger of a last sentence that set me cursing at the acknowledgements page for not being more story - Family Life is a beautiful picture of an immigrant family in the throes of both cultural assimilation and personal tragedy. ( )
  rhowens | Nov 26, 2019 |
It is a silent, powerful story about a family building their life in the States, exploring the dark side of emigration against the backdrop of personal tragedy.

For a complete review please click on the link below:

http://onerightword.blogspot.co.uk/2017/02/family-life-akhil-sharma.html
( )
  ashkrishwrites | Aug 29, 2018 |
Yesterday at the bookshop, I had the choice between Akhil Sharma's Family Life and Lin Yutang's The Importance of Living.

After going through both, I decided to go for The Importance of Living.

The writing in Akhil Sharma's book is amateurish. It's a book that has been written for the masses. The writing is so simple that there is no depth. You would have to "fish for depth", concoct complicate ways of explaining the meaning of the story, but really, there is no depth.

I don't wish to hurt or harm Akhil Sharma by saying this. I know that a negative review is what it is: a negative review. And I don't have the energy to do that anymore, because I am tired of the number of times I have been disappointed with what The New Yorker, The New York Times and the Guardian advertise as a "must read". What's wrong with the publishing world? Why isn't someone doing something about it? Why are we still under the sway of the majority?

The system of using literary agents to connect the author to the publisher must be abolished. Literary agents only seek profits and profits can only be made if they can attract readers in masses. And what do the masses want? Mediocre literature!

Don't tell me that:
1. Small presses or independent presses operate differently! They want a share of the market too. They are just starting small, reaping the benefits of typical SME's and hoping to be like every other Harper Collins, Penguin or Bloomsbury.

2. The Importance of Living is a totally different genre than Family Life and that these two can't be compared. Of course they can. Leaf through the pages. You see substance in a few lines of Lin Yutang's book and just notes in Akhil Sharma's.

So why did Akhil Sharma turn popular overnight? Because he went to Harvard Law School and won many short story prizes? As one reviewer on Goodreads said, surely he (Akhil Sharma) had connections and credentials. Otherwise, if his publisher was really intent on giving the public work of substance, work that was on a par with so many good writers who have come and gone, then he would not have allowed this on the market. ( )
1 vote humeirah | Jun 29, 2016 |
This intense and engrossing family drama chronicles the early years of Ajay Mishra, whose family moves from New Delhi to the United States in the late 1970s. Ajay's father emigrates first, fulfilling a lifelong dream. He gets a job as a government clerk, rents an apartment in Queens, and, a year after leaving India, sends plane tickets for his wife and two sons, Ajay and Birju. For Ajay, the shock of finding himself living in America never really goes away, even when he grows up. He is constantly being reminded that Indians are different from Americans and that the differences are real and have an impact on the kind of life one is permitted to live. Still, he assimilates as well as can be expected, though more slowly than Birju, watching with a combination of envy and admiration as his older brother accumulates academic successes while his own accomplishments remain ordinary. Still, Ajay can't help but share in the family's pride when Birju is accepted into the prestigious Bronx High School of Science. Then disaster strikes. Birju is injured in a swimming accident. The rest of the story shows us a family in ongoing emotional crisis, alternately at war with and comforting each other on a daily basis. Unable to accept what has happened, Ajay's mother succumbs to the claims of healers who say they can fix her son. Resigned to disappointment and defeat, his father withdraws into a bottle. Ajay continues his efforts to become American and is often mortified by his parents', and his own, Indian-ness. Akhil Sharma's depiction of the conflicting cultural and emotional tensions in Ajay's life is unflinching and poignant, occasionally leavened by absurdist humour. Family Life, despite the tragedy at its core, is an emotionally reticent novel. Even the most heart-rending scenes are narrated in Ajay's coolly distant and unsentimental voice. Paradoxically, it is a voice that generates great suspense and leaves the reader deeply moved. ( )
  icolford | Nov 22, 2015 |
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Finally joining their father in America, Ajay and Birju enjoy their new, extraordinary life until tragedy strikes, leaving one brother incapacitated and the other practically orphaned in this strange land.

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