Akhil Sharma’s Family Life is a mostly autobiographical novel that tells the story of the Mishra family who immigrate to the US from India in the 70s in pursuit of a better life. Their welcome to the states is short-lived, however. A tragic accident soon occurs that shatters their hopes and dreams.
Family Life a novel by Akhil Sharma, Audible Inc, on sale now
Book Info: Audiobook received for review from Audible. Running time: 5 hrs, 45 mins. Read by: Vikas Adam. Also available in e-book or hardcover, 224 pages from W.W. Norton & Company.
So, in an interview author Akhil Sharma states, “Almost everything in the novel is true.” I have no doubt of that fact because this is such an emotional and heavy read that will resonate with anyone who has experienced loss and/or family drama. And Sharma spent over 12 years writing this very personal novel, which I imagine was very difficult.
Family Life is a slim volume at just over 200 pages, but this is not a book I could read in one sitting, personally. The Mishra family story is emotionally draining, and though there are lighter moments sprinkled into the narrative, mainly this book just made me sad.
The story is that the Mishra family is starting to adjust to life in the US, and their eldest son Birju is thriving and accepted to the Bronx High School of Science. A tragic swimming pool accident leaves Birju severely brain damaged, and his younger brother Ajay and his parents are left reeling.
The point of view of Family Life is from Birju’s brother Ajay’s perspective. We follow Ajay from age 8 to 40 and see how his family collapses after the accident. Ajay’s dad turns to alcohol, and his mother devotes her life to caring for Birju. Ajay is kind of left to his own devices in a new country and new school. He has few friends and is bullied, but finds his way through books and writing, and achieves academic success. Though even his success is tinged with sadness, as Birju never got the chance to reach his own goals.
Akhil Sharma packs a punch with this novel, and makes you feel the impact of the family tragedy straight to the gut. Sharma plays with time over the novel, as Ajay starts out a kid trying to find himself, to an academic superstar, to an accomplished adult. It’s somewhat easier to digest this story through Ajay’s eyes, which brings some lightness to the situation. The book touches on race, culture, alcoholism, depression, and family and gives you a lot to think about.
I listened to the audiobook, performed by Vikas Adam. Adam conveys Ajay’s character from a high voiced 8-year-old to a serious 40-year-old man, and his emotional ups and downs over the years. The audiobook makes the story feel even more real, as Adam brings Ajay’s parents’ struggles to life. Adam performs the novel with an authentic sounding Indian accent, and makes you feel a connection to the characters. However, even though this audiobook is just under 6 hours long I had to take frequent breaks from listening because the subject is such a downer. I have listened to Vikas Adam before in Katie McGarry’s Crash Into You and look forward to hearing more from him.
Listen to a sample of Vikas Adam performing Family Life:
Read Family Life if you like: Literary Fiction, cultural stories, and books about family, grief and adversity.