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Family Life

A Novel

Akhil Sharma


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Other Editions of This Title:
Hardcover (4/7/2014)
Hardcover, Large Print (8/27/2014)


Winner of the 2016 International Dublin Literary Award

"Gorgeously tender at its core…beautiful, heartstopping…Family Life really blazes." —Sonali Deraniyagala, New York Times Book Review

Hailed as a "supreme storyteller" (Philadelphia Inquirer) for his "cunning, dismaying and beautifully conceived" fiction (New York Times), Akhil Sharma is possessed of a narrative voice "as hypnotic as those found in the pages of Dostoyevsky" (The Nation). In his highly anticipated second novel, Family Life, he 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 to the Mishras is, indeed, everything they could have imagined and more: when automatic glass doors open before them, they feel that surely they must have been mistaken for somebody important. Pressing an elevator button and the elevator closing its doors and rising, they have a feeling of power at the fact that the elevator is obeying them. Life is extraordinary until tragedy strikes, leaving one brother severely brain-damaged and the other lost and virtually orphaned in a strange land. Ajay, the family’s younger son, prays to a God he envisions as Superman, longing to find his place amid the ruins of his family’s new life.

Heart-wrenching and darkly funny, Family Life is a universal story of a boy torn between duty and his own survival.

Praise For Family Life: A Novel

Outstanding…Every page is alive and surprising, proof of [Sharma’s] huge, unique talent.
— David Sedaris

Riveting… Sharma is compassionate but unflinching.
— Sonali Deraniyagala - The New York Times Book Review

Dark humor twines through Sharma’s unforgettable story of survival and its costs.
— Mary Pols - People

Surface simplicity and detachment are the hallmarks of this novel, but hidden within its small, unembellished container are great torrents of pity and grief. Sedulously scaled and crafted, it transforms the chaos of trauma into a glowing work of art.
— The Wall Street Journal

I lost all track of time while I was reading it, and felt by the end that I’d returned from a great and often harrowing journey… To my own surprise, I found myself renewed after reading it, and imbued with a feeling of hope.
— John Wray - Salon

Sharma spent 13 years writing this slim novel, and the effort shows in each lucid sentence and heartbreaking detail.
— Stephen Lee - Entertainment Weekly

A heartbreaking novel-from-life… [Sharma] takes after Hemingway, as each word of his brilliant novel feels deliberate, and each line is quietly moving.
— Maddie Crum - Huffington Post

There's nothing like the pleasure of being devastated by a short novel. Like Jhumpa Lahiri, Akhil Sharma writes of the Indian immigrant experience with great empathy and a complete lack of sentimentality. Family Life is a dark and thrilling accomplishment by a wildly gifted writer.

— Ann Packer

Family Life is a terse, devastating account of growing up as a brilliant outsider in American culture. It is a nearly perfect novel.

— Edmund White

Sharma is a rare master at charting the frailties and failures, the cruelties and rages, the altering moods and contradictions, whims and perversities of a tragic cast of characters. But this most unsentimental writer leaves the reader, finally and surprisingly, moved.
— Kiran Desai

An immigrant story like no other: funny and dark, unrelenting and above all, true.
— Nell Freudenberger

W. W. Norton & Company, 9780393350609, 240pp.

Publication Date: February 2, 2015

About the Author

Akhil Sharma is the author of Family Life, a New York Times Best Book of the Year and the winner of the International DUBLIN Literary

Award and the Folio Prize. 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 and teaches English at Rutgers University–Newark.


Conversation Starters from

  1. The novel opens in the present, when Ajay is forty and his parents are elderly. How does this opening affect your experience of the rest of the novel, which takes place during Ajay’s childhood?generic viagra price canada
  2. America is marvelous to the Mishra family at first. If tragedy hadn’t struck, do you think that America would have met the Mishras’ expectations for it? Or do you think that at least certain elements of their disillusionment were inevitable?generic viagra price canada
  3. How does the Mishras’ status as immigrants affect their experience of Birju’s accident? How might their lives following the accident have played out differently if they weren’t strangers in a strange land?generic viagra price canada
  4. What do you make of Ajay’s conversations with God following his brother’s accident? Describe the God that Ajay invents for himself. How does his God help him, and how doesn’t he? Can you pinpoint the moment in the novel when Ajay stops talking to God?generic viagra price canada
  5. Describe the process by which Ajay becomes a writer. How does writing change the way he experiences his childhood?generic viagra price canada
  6. In the aftermath of Birju’s accident, Ajay’s mother turns to religion and his father to alcohol. How are these two coping mechanisms different? Do you think they have anything in common? Do you think that Ajay’s own way of coping—academic success—has anything in common with his parents’?generic viagra price canada
  7. Did you find moments in Family Life funny, despite its darkness? What kind of humor does the novel possess?generic viagra price canada
  8. Describe the prose style in Family Life. What do you think the author achieves through the candor and lack of sentimentality in his storytelling?generic viagra price canada
  9. On the second anniversary of his brother’s accident, Ajay thinks, “I couldn’t believe that everything had changed because of three minutes” (page 129). What do you make of this? How does the brevity of the accident itself affect your experience of the passage of time in the novel, which takes place over many years? Has your own life ever changed so drastically, so quickly?generic viagra price canada
  10. Compare and contrast the scenes when the family is awaiting news of Ajay’s college acceptances to the scenes when they are awaiting news of Birju’s high school acceptance.generic viagra price canada
  11. Describe Ajay’s love life in high school and beyond. What is he seeking from his girlfriends? In what ways is he being honest with them, and in what ways, dishonest? How are his relationships with women affected by his experience with his brother? His experience as an immigrant? Describe some of your own high school relationships.generic viagra price canada
  12. Family Life ends in a moment of ambiguity. “I got happier and happier,” Ajay says. “In the distance was the beach and the breaking waves and the red seaplane bobbing in the water. The happiness was almost heavy. And that was when I knew I had a problem” (page 218). What is it about this moment and about Ajay’s happiness that tells him he has a problem? How would you describe his problem? Do you think he’ll ever escape or solve it?generic viagra price canada