Sunday, January 4, 2015

Book reviw: "Family Life" by Akhil Sharma

I decided to read Akhil Sharma's Family Life after I came upon his essay in Sunday NYT (essay: “The Trickof Life”). The book is semi-biographical and expands on Mr. Sharma's essay  so I was prepared for a sorrowful narrative of the Sharma family saga. In the NYT essay, Akhil highlights the crux of his story:

“When I was 10 and he was 14, my older brother, Anup, dived into a swimming pool, struck his head on its bottom and remained underwater for three minutes. When he was pulled out, he could no longer walk or talk, could no longer feed himself, could no longer even roll over in his sleep. Only a few months before, he was heading to the Bronx High School of Science.

My parents are deeply pious Hindus. We had been in America for two years when the accident occurred, in 1981. And of course when tragedy occurs, even nonimmigrants and nonpious people find themselves turning to their most atavistic selves. My parents took Anup out of the hospital and brought him to our house. For the next 28 years, until he died, they tried to fix him through faith healing. Strange men — not priests or gurus, but engineers, accountants, candy shop owners — would come to the house and perform bizarre rituals, claiming that God had visited them in a dream and told them of a magical cure that would fix Anup.”

These two paragraphs are perhaps a summary of the book “Family Life.” If this was it, would the book have become a NYT bestseller? To continue to engage readers through descriptions of tormented youth is a skill in itself, and in this respect Akhil does not disappoint.

Much of the book focuses on the travails and tribulations of immigrant Sharma family seen through the eyes of the protagonist, Akhil. He wallows in self-pity while taking us through experiences of an Indian immigrant family in New York. And despite all odds, does well academically and is accepted into Princeton. The rest – a well paying job in investment banking etc follow.

No doubt Akhil and family were dealt a lemon, but as the adage goes ‘We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.’ It is admirable that Akhil turned his lemon into a story, a bestseller at that!

Bottomline: “Family Life” is neither a must-read nor everyone's cup of tea. However, it is well written, fast paced read if you are in for it.

Note to self: If life gives you a lemon …. write a story about it. (My review on

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