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Family Life

3.53  ·  Rating details ·  8,822 ratings  ·  1,214 reviews
In Family Life, Akhil Sharma delivers a story of astonishing intensity and emotional precision. We meet the Mishra family in Delhi in 1978, where eight-year-old Ajay and his older brother Birju play cricket in the streets, waiting for the day when their plane tickets will arrive and they and their mother can fly across the world and join their father in America. America t ...more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published February 2nd 2015 by W. W. Norton Company (first published April 7th 2014)
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Leah I would like to express my appreciation for you asking this question. I came on here because I did not understand the ending and was wondering if othe…moreI would like to express my appreciation for you asking this question. I came on here because I did not understand the ending and was wondering if others had the same experience. You answered my question and for this I am feeling happy and relieved! Now I get it!
All the best to you Kathleen and all you love, Leah(less)
Mariann Scott I disliked the ending. It felt like a rushed let down after investing so much into the characters.

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Average rating 3.53  · 
Rating details
 ·  8,822 ratings  ·  1,214 reviews

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Feb 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: best-of-2014
So glad to see this made the New York Times Top 10 of 2014. Thanks to Goodreads and W.W. Norton for advance copy.

Akhil Sharma's "Family Life" is a beautifully controlled autobiographical novel. I couldn’t shake the feeling from the very beginning that something magnificent was going to happen. Granted, a tweet by the publisher stating, “The end is going to make your jaw drop”, was partially responsible for this.

Though it’s the true story of a family that immigrated from India to the United Sta
Paul Bryant
May 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: novels
Bleak, bitter, harsh, unsparing, a precise delineation of a private hell. You want to know what life is like for a recently immigrated to America family of Indians when the older teenage brother has a catastrophic accident? Look no further. This is strictly all from the compressed, repressed, suppressed, raging on the inside, passing exams on the outside point of view of Ajay, who in 200 whizzing-by pages grows from around 8 to college and beyond while this daily awfulness never lets up. Apparen ...more
Feb 20, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I received this book through the Goodreads Giveaway. Upon receiving the book I became very excited to read it after seeing the glowing review blurbs on the back of the book. But, after completing the book, I ended up really disappointed. I can't say I agree with any of the glowing endorsements. I found this book extremely boring. The book is very short, generally it would take me about 2-3 days to read a book of this length, but it took me over a week. I just had no desire to keep reading. The w ...more
Tanuj Solanki
Somewhere in the middle of Akhil Sharma’s novel, Family Life, the narrator, Ajay Mishra, whose childhood is what the novel is about, starts a literary journey. He reads a biography of Ernest Hemingway before reading any fiction works by the American writer. In ninth grade at that point, he fantasizes about becoming a writer and goes on to read critical essays on Hemingway. An essay tells him that “…Hemingway got away with writing plainly because he wrote about exotic things.” Thereafter, Ajay re ...more
Chris Witkowski
Since the author has stated that everything that occurs in this slim novel actually happened to him, I am mystified as to why he did not call it a memoir. In answer to this question Sharma states: “For me, a memoir is nonfiction and nonfiction has to be absolutely true.” But since I usually expect plot and character development when reading fiction, I was very disappointed with this true to life "novel".

The story recounts the author's/protagonist's (Ajay) life, telling how he and his family emi
Clif Hostetler
Aug 08, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
This book is about an immigrant experience crushed by the results of a medical tragedy. The ambitious expectations of East Indian parents for their son’s future academic success suddenly disappeared when their son is permanently brain damaged by a swimming pool accident.

The story is told in first person by a younger son as the family slowly drifts into a form of dysfunction totally focused on the mother’s nonstop care of their helpless older son and the father's battle with alcoholism. Meanwhil
Dec 19, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I received this advanced reader's copy from GR's Giveaways Program.

For a good part of this book, I thought it was a Young Adult book because the narrator is a child. The tone is quite plainspoken, simple. This contrasts with and magnifies the profoundly devastating pain and confusion the boy experiences.

The tone, though, doesn't change as the narrator matures, for instance into high school. The tone remains simple and here I believe its continuation reflects the deep melancholy of his life on se
Angela M
Feb 20, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a deeply moving story with a lot of sadness and loneliness, but it is also a story about unconditional love . The story is narrated by Ajay , who at 8 years old in the late 1970's, emigrates from India to the United States with his mother, father, and his older brother, Birju. They are a family seeking a better life, but when Birju has an accident and is mentally and physically incapacitated, “ the family life” becomes a daily struggle for all of them , as they try to care for Birju.

I’ve read a couple of memoirs about caring for a family member with a severe brain injury: The Last Act of Love by Cathy Rentzenbrink and Beyond the High Blue Air by Lu Spinney. Compared to those, the tone of this autobiographical novel is so distant, so dispassionate that I had trouble feeling much sympathy for the immigrant family at its heart, despite the awfulness of their lives after Birju hits his head in a swimming pool and lies underwater for three long, brain-killing minutes. As ...more
Sorayya Khan
Jul 31, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A simple and brutal story of a family's tragedy. Survival and salvation are not always the same thing, but in this narrative, survival feels like salvation. The simplicity of the narrative is profound, a lyricism to match the exactness of the horror. Love does all sorts of things to people, but in Akhil Sharma's book it is sublime and horror all at once. The novel is masterful. ...more
May 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: best-of-2014
Yet again, one of those books which you read from start to finish in almost one breath. And which leave you breathless. Not a very long book, yet such tremendous detailing and superb plot outline! With narration that leaves you speechless. Pardon the use of so many cliches but this one book that truly deserves it. Akhil Sharma talks about things that a lot of emigrant Indians go through. And this may have been talked about by other authors as well. But the passionate telling of the story makes o ...more
Iris P
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Diane S ☔
May 13, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ajay is eight years old, he is in India with his mother and older brother, waiting for his father, who had gone to America a year before, to send them tickets to join him. The tickets arrive and they leave, becoming immigrants in a land very unfamiliar to them.

At first things are strange and this semi autobiographical novel does a great job describing everything Ajay sees and does. When automatic doors open, he feels very important, elevators are a source of wonder, but there are adjustments as
Feb 10, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” So wrote Leo Tolstoy over a century ago. Akhil Sharma’s canvas is a distinctly unhappy family, and we’re alerted to it from the very first line: “My father has a glum nature. He’s been retired for a few years and he doesn’t speak much.”

There’s a reason for his father’s glumness. As Indian immigrants, Ajay (the young narrator’s) parents had high hopes for their life in America, mainly centering around Ajay’s older brot
Apr 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“Family Life” is a coming of age story, an immigrant story, a story that proves once again how every family is unhappy in its own way. Closely based on Sharma’s own life, it’s as near to memoir as fiction gets.

Yet despite the many categories into which it can be slotted, this tender, tragic, darkly humorous novel stands apart. From the opening line, “My father has a glum nature”, it’s a masterpiece of understatement and whatever the opposite of sentimentality is.

It's impossible to say much abo
Apr 16, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
One brother is catatonic, the other is mundane
The plot is both

Fine to have the voice of a young teenage narrator, but the voice doesn't change as the narrator gets older. And I deliberately didn't use the word "matures" because he doesn't seem to mature at all.

I am still not sure why this was a recommended read ... he must have credentials or connections. There was no plot. There was an enormous amount of trivial repetition.

Boring as! Get. Over. Yourself.

Chris Blocker
Jan 07, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sa-clegg
There are some wonderful moments in Akhil Sharma's Family Life, largely in how the protagonist, Ajay, sees the world. He often has a view that is juvenile, yet insightful. These glimpses of Ajay's perspective give this novel its strength, but it hinges far too much on these occasions. The story and characters all seem to revolve around these moments in Ajay's life, and while that may be the point, it does not lend to the most enjoyable read. The novel lacked a singularity that could keep me inte ...more
Jan 06, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Quietly disheartening book about a family implosion.

In 1978, eight-year-old Ajay Mishra lives in Delhi with his older brother, Birju, and his mother and father. His father immigrates to America and a year later, he sends airline tickets and the rest of the family follow him. Ajay struggles to assimilate while Birju has an easier time fitting in. Birju has just been accepted, to the family’s delight, to the prestigious Bronx High School of Science, when tragedy strikes. How Ajay and his family r
More of a 3.5 plus than an outright 4 out of 5.

"Family Life" falls in the category of 'illness dramas' (doesn’t sound nice, I know) like Jerry Pinto's spectacular debut novel "Em and The Big Hoom" but the latter is a far more superlative work in that regard. Nonetheless, the major appeal of this book lies in its portrayal of a dysfunctional family that you might resonate with even if you believe you've never been part of one.

Autobiographical in nature, Akhil Sharma invested twelve-and-a-half yea
Manjul Bajaj
Sep 14, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars

I liked this book much. It is straightforward, direct and honest and I found it an easy read. I liked how the author has pared the writing down till it is clear of all excess sentimentality and self-pity. It must have taken a lot of doing to reach this level of detachment and objectivity. That I guess explains the first question that puzzled me about it - why such a slight book should have taken twelve years to write. The other thing that puzzled me was the tremendous hype the book has
Jan 17, 2021 rated it liked it
“I felt sad, happy, content.”

This semi-autobiographical book by Akhil Sharma won several awards and hence my curiosity got piqued. The book is well written slice of life story of a family dealing with a tragedy.

Ajay and his brother Briju move to US with their parents from a very middle class Indian society of 1970s. When a tragic accident makes Birju brain damaged how the family copes with it becomes the rest of the book.

It is not a story that heads somewhere. Character arcs of his mom, his dad
This was a short book and a quick read, which was hard for me to believe as it took the author twelve years to write it. In reading about it I found that this fictional story is based very closely on events in his own life. Two young boys immigrate to the US from Dehli with there parents. When tragedy occurs it changes each and every member of this family and mostly not for the better.

"Family Life" is told from the point of view of AJay who is only 8 at the beginning of this story. It is his o
Apr 21, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Family Life by Akhil Sharma is in part the story of the Indian immigrant in the United States. But mostly it is the story of a family, struck by tragedy and coming apart because of its ceaseless weight.

Ajay and his older brother Birju come to the United States from India when Ajay is 8 years old. Birju adjusts more quickly-he makes friends more easily, gets excellent grades, and is perhaps the more beloved by their parents. Then, shortly after realizing his family's dreams of being accepted to t
Dec 16, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If I ever do a chapter by chapter analysis of this book, with the chapter on the x-axis and the ratings on the y-axis, it would closely resemble a sine curve.

The book is sad. The plot has nothing happy to cheer about, it's a book about family struggles around an event which is depressing. The family's struggle is even more depressing. The characters are depressing. The place is sad. And yet, Akhil Sharma has managed to give us a good book around various elements of melancholy.

The good moments of
Miriam Cihodariu
Oct 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: usa, india
This is a hard story to read and the fact that it's almost auto-biographical makes it all the more difficult to take in. It's about a family tragedy and the obligations and damage that you can't move away from, even if it means eternal unhappiness and drudgery.

Once the older brother has an accident that leaves him severely brain-damaged, the family permanently delves into psychosis and estrangement. The mother is incapable of caring about anything else, the dad is struggling with alcoholism, th
Laura McNeal
This novel was so gripping I read it in two days on the beach. I could hardly lift my eyes from it to look at the ocean. If you know what the novel's about, as I did, the suspense comes first from the expectation of that terrible event and then from an almost unbearable desire to be told that such a crushing blow can be endured and overcome, that perhaps somewhere, somehow, Ajay will find release and happiness. Every sentence manages to convey both the pain that Ajay feels and the confused desir ...more
Jul 11, 2017 rated it liked it
Ratings (1 to 5)
Writing: 4
Plot: 3
Characters: 4
Emotional impact: 3
Overall rating: 3.5
Kelly DuMar
Jul 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a lovely book. The story is beautifully focused on the impact on an Indian American family when one of their sons is permanently brain damaged. The first person narrator is funny and quirky and honest and brave and silly, and his voice is straightforward at the same time. Not a sentimental book in any way. Deeply felt, sparingly communicated in prose. Loved these characters despite all their shortcomings. Best last line of a novel I've read in centuries.

Sparse in style, yet deeply textured tale of an Indian family emigrating to the United States in the 1970s detailing their trials, joys and tribulations. At times sad, other times darkly comedic and overall all about family, good read! 7 out of 12.
Renita D'Silva
Dec 07, 2018 rated it liked it
A sensitive and poignant exploration of the immigrant experience.
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Akhil Sharma is the author of An Obedient Father, winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award and was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Best American Short Stories, and O. Henry Award Stories. A native of Delhi, he lives in New York City.

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