Family Life

Family Life

4.7 4
by Akhil Sharma

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Winner of the 2016 International Dublin Literary Award
"Gorgeously tender at its core…beautiful, heartstopping…Family Life really blazes." —Sonali Deraniyagala, New York Times Book Review
Hailed as a "supreme storyteller" (Philadelphia Inquirer) for his "cunning, dismaying and beautifully conceived" fiction (New York Times), Akhil Sharma is


Winner of the 2016 International Dublin Literary Award
"Gorgeously tender at its core…beautiful, heartstopping…Family Life really blazes." —Sonali Deraniyagala, New York Times Book Review
Hailed as a "supreme storyteller" (Philadelphia Inquirer) for his "cunning, dismaying and beautifully conceived" fiction (New York Times), Akhil Sharma is possessed of a narrative voice "as hypnotic as those found in the pages of Dostoyevsky" (The Nation). In his highly anticipated second novel, Family Life, he delivers a story of astonishing intensity and emotional precision.
We meet the Mishra family in Delhi in 1978, where eight-year-old Ajay and his older brother Birju play cricket in the streets, waiting for the day when their plane tickets will arrive and they and their mother can fly across the world and join their father in America. America to the Mishras is, indeed, everything they could have imagined and more: when automatic glass doors open before them, they feel that surely they must have been mistaken for somebody important. Pressing an elevator button and the elevator closing its doors and rising, they have a feeling of power at the fact that the elevator is obeying them. Life is extraordinary until tragedy strikes, leaving one brother severely brain-damaged and the other lost and virtually orphaned in a strange land. Ajay, the family’s younger son, prays to a God he envisions as Superman, longing to find his place amid the ruins of his family’s new life.Heart-wrenching and darkly funny, Family Life is a universal story of a boy torn between duty and his own survival.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Sonali Deraniyagala
…deeply unnerving and gorgeously tender at its core…Family Life is devastating as it reveals how love becomes warped and jagged and even seemingly vanishes in the midst of huge grief. But it also gives us beautiful, heart-stopping scenes where love in the Mishra family finds air and ease…I found Family Life riveting in its portrayal of an immigrant community's response to loss…But where Family Life really blazes is in its handling of Mrs. Mishra's grief. Sharma is compassionate but unflinching as he tells of this mother's persistent and desperate efforts to cope over the years.
Publishers Weekly
★ 12/09/2013
The immigrant experience has been documented in American literature since those first hardy souls landed at Plymouth, and as the immigrants keep coming, so too do their stories. Sharma (An Obedient Father), who acknowledges the autobiographical elements in his new novel, tells a simple but layered tale of assimilation and adaptation. The Mishras come to America in the late-1970s, the father first, in the wake of new U.S. immigration laws and the Indian Emergency, when the narrator, Ajay, is eight, and his brother Birju is 12. There are lovely scenes of their life in Delhi before they leave, the mother making wicks from the cotton in pill bottles, the parade of neighbors when their plane tickets to America arrive. Sharma captures the experience for Ajay of being transported to a different country: the thrill of limitless hot water flowing from a tap; the trauma of bullies at school; the magic of snow falling; watching Birju, the favored son, studying hours each day and spending entire weekends preparing for the entrance exam at the prestigious Bronx High School of Science. Then a terrible tragedy irreparably alters the family and their fortunes. Sharma skillfully uses this as another window into the Indian way of accepting and dealing with life. A loving portrait, both painful and honest. (Apr.)
Colson Whitehead -
“If it’s tragedy, why do I remember the jokes with such fondness? Most reviews of Family Life have adequately conveyed its harrowing cruelties. But since this Slate/Whiting project is intended to steer readers toward second novels they may have overlooked, I’d like to point out that beyond the sadness, the novel contains a deep, nourishing reservoir of grim humor, thanks to Ajay’s deadpan and dead-eyed perceptions.”
New York Times Book Review
“Deeply unnerving and gorgeously tender.”
Kim Hubbard - People
Lorin Stein - Paris Review
“I cannot think of a more honest or unsparing novelist in our generation.”
Mohsin Hamid
“This is a wonderful novel by an excellent writer. Akhil Sharma's unsentimentality has the effect of making his writing uncommonly touching.”
Darin Strauss
“Sharma's authority is mesmerizing and fun, and you’ll read Family Life in one enthralled go.”
Jayne Anne Phillips
“This uncompromising testament to the human cost of love is exhilarating in its intelligence and unerring perception.”
Gabe Hudson
“Miraculous, heartbreaking, courageous, and awe-inspiring.”
Kirkus Reviews
In Sharma's world, as in Leo Tolstoy's, unhappy families continue to be unhappy in different ways. In 1978, narrator Ajay's father emigrates from Delhi to New York to take a job as a clerk in a government agency, and a year later, his family joins him. Ajay's mother had been an economics teacher in India and must now adjust to lower career aspirations, while Ajay's older brother Birju experiences some academic success in middle school and qualifies to attend the prestigious Bronx High School of Science. Tragically, just before Birju is about to begin at his new high school, he has an accident—he hits his head in a pool and stays unconscious underwater for three minutes, leading to severe brain damage that lasts throughout his life. This accident changes the entire dynamic for the Mishra family. First, they have to determine how to take care of Birju, and they eventually decide to buy a new home and have live-in help, a situation made more feasible when the family gets a $1 million insurance settlement. But the father becomes an alcoholic, in part owing to the new stresses brought about by Birju's medical needs, and the mother winds up taking a job in the garment industry for minor wages. Meanwhile, Ajay begins to feel some pressure to be the academic star, something he succeeds in by graduating first in his high school class—he eventually attends Princeton, studies economics and becomes an investment banker. Along the way, he becomes enamored with Ernest Hemingway and begins to write short stories about his family life in the reportorial and flat style of the author he so admires—a style Sharma also adheres to in the writing of his novel. A moving story of displacement and of the inevitable adjustments one must make when life circumstances change.
From the Publisher
“"Outstanding…Every page is alive and surprising, proof of [Sharma’s] huge, unique talent."—David Sedaris”
Sonali Deraniyagala - The New York Times Book Review
“Riveting… Sharma is compassionate but unflinching.”
Ann Packer
“There's nothing like the pleasure of being devastated by a short novel.Like Jhumpa Lahiri, Akhil Sharma writes of the Indian immigrant experience with great empathy and a complete lack of sentimentality. Family Life is a dark and thrilling accomplishment by a wildly gifted writer.”
Gary Shteyngart
“Family Life will cut your heart to pieces but it will also make you rejoice. The language, the humor, the sophistication, the empathy, the insight—all signal a new kind of literature about families and the bonds with which they hold us tight.”
Edmund White
“Family Life is a terse, devastating account of growing up as a brilliant outsider in American culture.It is a nearly perfect novel.”
Kiran Desai
“Sharma is a rare master at charting the frailties and failures, the cruelties and rages, the altering moods and contradictions, whims and perversities of a tragic cast of characters. But this most unsentimental writer leaves the reader, finally and surprisingly, moved.”
Molly Langmuir - Elle
“Bracingly vivid… Has the ring of all devastatingly good writing: truth.”
Nell Freudenberger
“An immigrant story like no other: funny and dark, unrelenting and above all, true.”
Meg Wolitzer - NPR
“[F]ine and memorable.”
Amie Barrodale - Vice
“If you're the betting type, put money on it: National Book Award, Pulitzer, and the Book Critic Circle-thingy. Akhil's in the running for a hat trick.”
Maddie Crum - Huffington Post
“A heartbreaking novel-from-life… [Sharma] takes after Hemingway, as each word of his brilliant novel feels deliberate, and each line is quietly moving.”
Angela Carone - San Diego Magazine
“An unsentimental, powerful portrait of immigrant life from an author who has been compared to Dostoyevsky.”
Stephen Lee - Entertainment Weekly
“Sharma spent 13 years writing this slim novel, and the effort shows in each lucid sentence and heartbreaking detail.”
The Wall Street Journal
“Surface simplicity and detachment are the hallmarks of this novel, but hidden within its small, unembellished container are great torrents of pity and grief. Sedulously scaled and crafted, it transforms the chaos of trauma into a glowing work of art.”
Mary Pols - People
“Dark humor twines through Sharma’s unforgettable story of survival and its costs.”
John Wray - Salon
“I lost all track of time while I was reading it, and felt by the end that I’d returned from a great and often harrowing journey… To my own surprise, I found myself renewed after reading it, and imbued with a feeling of hope.”
Jon Garelick - Boston Globe
“With his subtly drawn point of view—recreating the child’s perceptions but with the controlling sensibility of an adult intelligence—Sharma gives us a fully imagined world, both hard and consoling.”
David Sedaris
“Outstanding…Every page is alive and surprising, proof of [Sharma’s] huge, unique talent.”

Product Details

Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.10(d)

Meet the Author

Akhil Sharma is the author of An Obedient Father, winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award and was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Best American Short Stories, and O. Henry Award Stories. A native of Delhi, he lives in New York City and is an assistant professor of English at Rutgers University, Newark.

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Family Life 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I think this novel will appeal mostly to those interested in reading about the experience of Indian immigrants to the US. Simple details really illuminate the story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It is so dismaying to me that people who seem to finally get what they worked and dreamed for are ultimately unhappy
Two2dogs More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book, quick and easy to read. The story kept me interested to the very end. The Dad in the story dealed with the situation by drinking, the Mom by keeping the hopes alive so that left the younger son to deal with things on his own and he is quite young when the story begins. Their Indian culture is very complex and interesting. .
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
the most honest, most natural writer