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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Good novel with weak title: Family Life

I'd noted last year, when I read the New Yorker excerpt from Akhil Sharma's novel, Family Life, that -- though I was disappointed to see the NYer once again run a novel excerpt almost like an unpaid ad for the forthcoming novel - I could tell it would be a really good novel, and from first few chapters of the (short) work I'm not disppointed at all. Sharma is an incredibly skillful and observant narrator - keeps the story moving along very well over a fairly long period of time and across two cultures (family emigrates to the U.S. from India in search of better life) and just as older son fulfills their ambitions (admitted to Bronx Science) he is severely injured in a pool accident. The central figure in the story is the seemingly autobiographic narrator, who's about 8 at the start and a bewildered young teen unpinned by his brother's accident. Sharma has both the acute observations of a young boy - story told very closely from his point of view - giving us a child's perspective on the U.S. as seen from an immigrant - the wonder at hot water streaming from a faucet, the surprise that TV stations have different #s in different cities - touching scenes in India (the boy giving his toys away to children in line to buy milk from a dairy vendor, the way in which the family is marked once their tickets to the US. are hand-delivered midst much celebration and interest) but also some smart observations from his 30+ adult perspective. Wish I could quote from memory but one smart comment describes the father in India concerned that the buildings don't recognize him as he passes by and he thinks in America he would be recognized - rather than thinking that he was the kind of man who expects buildings to recognize him. As I'd noted in my post last year, these characters are the anti-Lahiri immigrants - they are strivers, willing to give up their modest professions and work menial jobs, below their "stations," to advance their children and therefore investing far too much capital (emotional) in their children's success - rather than the Cambridge intellectuals who come ot the US on fellowships or to work in top jobs. Only thing dull about the novel is its title.

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