A Literary Journey Characterised by Tenderness and Grit

Amy Finnerty in The Wire:

ScreenHunter_2042 Jun. 18 19.28Upon learning this month that his autobiographical novel Family Life had won the €100,000 International Dublin Literary Award — the world’s richest prize for a single novel — Akhil Sharma exhaled, thinking: “Thank God, another disappointment averted.” He received the news in a hotel room in Guatemala.

It makes sense that the India-born, Manhattan-based American novelist, journalist and professor of creative writing remains ever alert to bad news. When he was eight years old and his family moved from Delhi to New York in the 1970s brimming with hope, they could hardly have imagined that his older brother, Anup, the character Birju Mishra in the book, would soon be catastrophically disabled in a swimming pool accident: left permanently brain damaged, blind, unable to speak and requiring round-the-clock care for the rest of his life. (He died just four years ago). Family Life puts the prolonged and harrowing ordeal under fluorescent lights.

The author of an award-winning first novel, An Obedient Father, Sharma spent 13 years wrestling Family Life onto the page, a process he has likened to “chewing gravel”. A few years in, despairing and overweight, he says, he gave up on the project. Then he started running inhuman distances every day and, accessing the grit that he’s used to succeed at pretty much everything he’s ever set his mind to, he staggered across page 218 and handed in the manuscript to his editor, Jill Bialosky at Norton.

More here.