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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

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Sorrow and pity in Sharma's Family Life

Akhil Sharma's Family Life, a very short but powerful novel, continues to impress me (about half-way through), in particular for the sharply observant writing and for the ability to tell a story that's potentially maudlin and melodramatic with a clear, sharp tone that keeps the novel free from sentimentality and self-pity. The story is about a struggling family of immigrants from India who put all of their hope and faith in the older son - encouraging him to study to be admitted to Bronx Science, w/ dreams of his becoming a surgeon - who are completely derailed when son is brain-damaged in a swimming-pool accident. The narrator is the younger brother, looking back on his childhood, and recounting in painful detail the demise of his family - with a chilling and credible honesty: his guilt at resentment over the attention his brother received, his struggle to make friends in school as the family keeps moving and devoting all of its time and resources to care for the immobilized and barely conscious brother. The family becomes the center of attention for the Indian diaspora community in North Jersey, but of course what the younger brother/narrator, Ajay, wants is not attention but normalcy. Through his precise but coolly distant narration we see the family demise: his father starts drinking, very unusual apparently in Hindi culture (a powerful scene when father takes son into a roadside bar), mother obviously paying no attention to father (or younger son) as all her energy consumed by care for the injured son, family finances mismanaged - including an insurance settlement that doesn't appear to be nearly enough to meet the needs of the brother, Ajay mostly friendless in school and trying to win friends by lying about his brother's prowess does not help - they're a family of outsiders, objects of curiosity and of reluctant pity, but finally alone in their suffering.

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