Family Life by Akhil Sharma: an autobiographical tale of immigration and family trauma.

Family Life by Akhil Sharma (published 2014) paints a devastating picture of one family’s experiences as Indian immigrants in America.

Blurb on the back:

For eight-year-old Ajay and his older brother Birju, life in Delhi in the late 1970s follows a comfortable, predictable routine: bathing on the roof, queuing for milk, playing cricket in the street. Yet everything changes when their father finds a job in America – a land of carpets and elevators, swimsuits and hot water on tap. Life is exciting for the two brothers as they adjust to prosperity, girls and 24-hour TV, until one hot, sultry day when everything falls apart. Darkly comic, Family Life is a story of a boy torn between duty and survival amid the ruins of everything he once knew,

Although a work of fiction, Sharma draws heavily on his own experiences in Family Life. Like the main character, Ajay, Sharma also emigrated to America from India with his family in the late 1970s. And like Ajay, his older brother also suffered a brain injury in an accident, which resulted in him needing constant care.

I read the book not knowing that it was based on Sharma’s own family; I think I would have reacted differently to it had I known this beforehand. My own response was to read this as an immigrant novel: this is America as experienced by immigrants, which I can relate to (my in-laws migrated to America in the 1970s from the Philippines, and I migrated to America in 2008).

I’m still processing how I feel about it. Although laced with humour, this is a dark story about how one moment can change a family forever.

In summary, Family Life packs an emotional punch with a heavy heart.

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