Title: Family Life
Author: Akhil Sharma
Release Date: April 7, 2014
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Co.
Genre: Literary Fiction, Cultural Fiction (South Asian)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Eight-year-old Ajay is excited when the plane tickets to America finally arrive, but he doesn’t fully realize that this means he will be taken from everything he knows and loves. Along with his mother and older brother Birju, Ajay travels to the United States, where his father is waiting for them. They settle into their new American lives until tragedy strikes, changing Ajay’s world and leaving him to struggle to find a new identity.
A gorgeous portrait of one family struggling to normalize after tragic events, Family Life focuses on the character of Ajay, who must find his own identity and navigate the difficult ways of his family and American society.
Akhil Sharma’s Family Life is short. Barely 200 pages, it seems innocuous and inviting on the shelf. But packed within these pages is a tale of misery, of sadness, but also of hope for better things. There’s humor and laughter interspersed between the seriousness of life. This novel packs a real punch; it doesn’t need to be wordy or overly long in order to have a devastating effect.
Ajay is the main character in Family Life and readers get to watch him grow and change, responding to life’s large and small events. Sure of himself and confident as a boy in India, he becomes someone new and different upon arriving in America. He doesn’t understand this strange land. He tries to fit in, only to be rebuffed. He’s socially awkward, and thus chooses instead to put his faith in superheroes. It’s interesting to watch his character evolve as the novel progresses, changing from a boy into a young man.
Family Life is a simple novel about, well, family life—that of the Mishras. While there is a sad event in the novel that could define it—it’d be easy to presume the novel centers around it—the book actually doesn’t. Rather, it’s about one family and how they react to success and adversity; their highest highs and lowest lows. Each character reacts in different ways; while the novel is sad and painful at times, it’s never too difficult or heavy. There’s always a smile waiting on the next page, Ajay to lighten the mood with his jokes or teen melancholy. Life goes on after accidents, after sad events; Mishra shows us how this family manages to cope and once again find a sense of normalcy.
Mishra’s spare, gorgeous writing is at the heart of Family Life; his prose makes the novel easy enough to read in one sitting. Readers who enjoy any sort of cultural stories or are looking to branch out would do well to pick up this novel. It’s never too heavy or difficult, even when it deals with some of the hardest parts of living.