Amity Gaige on 2015 Folio Prize winner Akhil Sharma
As a work of art, Family Life bears the authenticity of something remembered, and the spirit of something invented.
Ajay, the novel’s narrator, tells his story in one unbroken remembrance, as if he were sitting up late at night, at the nadir of his life. From his childhood departure from India, to his schooling amongst uncomprehending white people in suburban New Jersey, Ajay rifles through his adolescence trying to make sense of his perpetual otherness. His beloved older brother lies in a vegetative state after hitting his head in a swimming pool. Meanwhile Ajay hungers to know how life will punish him for the sin of his good fortune. In suspense, he becomes a compulsive hard worker, a truth twister, a superb self-hater; his mother says he eats pain.
The prose is frank, swept-clean, and devoid of equivocation. The gift Family Life gives us is that of catharsis – succinctly, unforgettably.