This book, deeply unnerving and gorgeously tender at its core, charts the young life of Ajay Mishra as he struggles to grow within a family shattered by loss and disoriented by a recent move from India to America … Family Life is devastating as it reveals how love becomes warped and jagged and even seemingly vanishes in the midst of huge grief. But it also gives us beautiful, heart-stopping scenes where love in the Mishra family finds air and ease … I found Family Life riveting in its portrayal of an immigrant community’s response to loss. The Mishras are surrounded by other Indian families, all striving for success in America. And with brilliant authenticity Sharma shows the distinct, and sometimes absurd, manner in which many of them behave around the wounded Mishras.
Akhil Sharma has suffered for your pleasure, and the results are magnificent. He suffered in his youth, as his novel takes off from his family history, and he suffered anew as he wrestled mightily, in heroic scale, with that essential writer’s dilemma: trying to get the words right. And trying. And trying. Eventually, he pulled it off … Beyond the sadness, the novel contains a deep, nourishing reservoir of grim humor, thanks to Ajay’s deadpan and dead-eyed perceptions. He’s an invariably unnerving narrator, whether decoding the true meaning of It’s a Wonderful Life or trying to arouse sympathy in his bored classmates by devising cringe-worthy stories of Birju’s pre-accident powers. There are plenty of cross-cultural miscommunications in Family Life, but gallows humor needs no translation.
For a while, reading Family Life is a little bit like drowning. I felt swallowed up by the oppressive despair of the Mishras. And all the excitement of American television with ‘programming from morning till night’ or a library where you could check out as many books as you wanted, is now replaced by descriptions of seizures and suffering … [Sharma] takes a simple, emotionally difficult story and makes the reader brave the ongoing pain and become fully absorbed. He does this through Ajay's very specific, adolescent and authentic voice … Though Birju and his parents can never escape their situation, Ajay can. And when he eventually grows up and leaves his parents and brother, he gets a chance to have his own life, and also to provide for his brother in a way his parents never could.