Family Life by Akhil Sharma

In his highly anticipated second novel, Family Life, Akhil Sharma chronicles a bittersweet immigrant story like none before him. Written from the point of view of Ajay, the younger of two sons of the newly arrived Mishra family, the employment of a child’s perspective is all at once strange and brilliant. The language is stark and honest and even the most mundane of details become poignant when keenly observed by Ajay, ‘I had never seen a carpet before’ and ‘I had never seen hot water coming from a tap’. Whilst it’s fair to assume that reading from a child’s perspective might be inhibitive or even odd (I must admit that I read the first page and quickly flicked back to the blurb to check that I hadn’t inadvertently picked up a YA novel); it isn’t. And that is the genius of this novel. It pushes boundaries and turns conventional methods of fiction writing on its head. Beset by family tragedy, the plot like the narrative is sparse, introspective and quaint. There is not a lot of action, the story is true to the title-it’s just family life, peppered with the silences, humour and guilt.
The story itself has a whiff of the American dream about it, but like other great American dream stories it comes at a cost. It is underpinned by pain, loss and the glaring reality that only a few will truly achieve their potential. Family Life is a migrant story of adjustment and unfamiliarity, mirrored by a personal journey of grief and transformation. It is simultaneously  frail and funny, meagre and moving, plotless and yet unputdownable. I read somewhere that it took Akhil Sharma nearly thirteen years to write this book, but the end result is worth it. Fluid, unique and very readable, it took me just a few hours to devour it.

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