Akhil Sharma’s ‘Family Life’

Sonali Deraniyagala in the New York Times:

0406-bks-cover-master675“Where is Ajay? What was the point of having raised him?” an elderly woman grumbles to her husband about their adult son in the opening pages of Akhil Sharma’s semi-autobiographical new novel, “Family Life.” This book, deeply unnerving and gorgeously tender at its core, charts the young life of Ajay Mishra as he struggles to grow within a family shattered by loss and disoriented by a recent move from India to America. “Family Life” is equally the story of Ajay’s parents, whose response to grief renders them unable to find the space in which to cherish and raise him.

Sharma’s previous novel, “An Obedient Father,” was a remorseless, forceful tale of a corrupt Indian civil servant who molests his daughter and ruins lives, including his own. “Family Life,” while also about domestic torment, is gentler and of an altogether different quality.

When we first meet the Mishras, they are a young, middle-class family living in Delhi in the mid-1970s. India is under emergency rule, a time of gloom and uncertainty, but for 8-year-old Ajay and his older brother, Birju, life is playful and secure. Their mother lights their world, while their father seems so superfluous that Ajay wonders if he’s been assigned to them by the government.

More here.