Akhil Sharma’s debut novel, The Obedient Fa- ther (FSG), published in 2000, won him a PEN/ Hemingway Award, a
Whiting Writers’ Award, and a reputation as a new voice in fiction. Fourteen
years later, he’s back with a second novel,
Family Life (Norton), due out in April.
Over lunch at Devi, an Indian restau-
rant in New York City, Sharma, 42, says
of his new novel, “It was a horror. It took
12 and a half years to write. It was diffi-
cult to write because the content is so
close to home: it’s based on my family,
and it’s difficult to revisit these things.”
Sharma is soft-spoken, polite, soulful,
present, and mindful. He orders for us.
Extremely attentive, he serves me my
food when it arrives.
Family Life follows the Mishras, an Indian family who immigrates to Queens,
N. Y., in 1979. Not long after they arrive,
the eldest (and favorite) son, Birju, suffers a tragic accident in a swimming
pool, throwing the family into despair.
It’s a heart-wrenching work, as difficult
to read as the author claims it was to
write, yet the book is impossible to put
down. Like the character of Birju, Sharma’s own older brother, Anup (his only
sibling, who died in February), was severely brain damaged due to an accident
when he was 14. Sharma was 10 at the
BY RUBY CUTOLO