Reviews for Family Life

Booklist Reviews 2014 March #2
*Starred Review* If the first rule of strong writing is, show, don't tell (and it is), Sharma is a grand master, a black belt, an Olympic champion. Via the spare, guileless voice of protagonist Ajay Mishra, we travel the entire 7,000-mile journey from New Delhi to New York in his shoes as his family--father, mother, brother Birju, and he--arrives and settles in America. There is the joyous, even hopeful dispensing of household goods and favorite toys that can't make the plane trip. The surprised delight of reading the exotic ingredients on the labels of canned goods in American supermarkets. The breathless anticipation of Birju's acceptance into a prestigious prep school. Then, after Birju suffers a tragic accident, the suctioning from their lives of all that hope, joy, delight, and anticipation. This is not just the double-whammy smack of reality á la strangers in a strange land. It is a multiple-whammy, full-body smackdown that ramps up the bizarreness of their new world by adding tragic, harrowing circumstances. As extreme as the family's misfortunes become, Sharma's seemingly effortless prose transcends any disbelief, and his characters and their experiences will linger in the mind's recesses long after the last page is read. Copyright 2014 Booklist Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2014 January #2
In Sharma's world, as in Leo Tolstoy's, unhappy families continue to be unhappy in different ways. In 1978, narrator Ajay's father emigrates from Delhi to New York to take a job as a clerk in a government agency, and a year later, his family joins him. Ajay's mother had been an economics teacher in India and must now adjust to lower career aspirations, while Ajay's older brother Birju experiences some academic success in middle school and qualifies to attend the prestigious Bronx High School of Science. Tragically, just before Birju is about to begin at his new high school, he has an accident—he hits his head in a pool and stays unconscious underwater for three minutes, leading to severe brain damage that lasts throughout his life. This accident changes the entire dynamic for the Mishra family. First, they have to determine how to take care of Birju, and they eventually decide to buy a new home and have live-in help, a situation made more feasible when the family gets a $1 million insurance settlement. But the father becomes an alcoholic, in part owing to the new stresses brought about by Birju's medical needs, and the mother winds up taking a job in the garment industry for minor wages. Meanwhile, Ajay begins to feel some pressure to be the academic star, something he succeeds in by graduating first in his high school class—he eventually attends Princeton, studies economics and becomes an investment banker. Along the way, he becomes enamored with Ernest Hemingway and begins to write short stories about his family life in the reportorial and flat style of the author he so admires—a style Sharma also adheres to in the writing of his novel. A moving story of displacement and of the inevitable adjustments one must make when life circumstances change. Copyright Kirkus 2014 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews 2013 November #1

Here's another book regarded as top of the April heap by its publisher. PEN/Hemingway Award winner Sharma, who made Granta's Best Young American Novelists 2 list, crafts the story of the newly immigrated Mishras, in thrall to America until their son suffers a terrible accident.

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Library Journal Reviews 2014 January #1

The Mishra family has a harder time than most adjusting to a new life in America in the 1970s. Then, shortly after their arrival from India, older son Birju is hopelessly injured after a dive into a swimming pool goes wrong. Younger son Ajay grows up watching his mother and father become totally absorbed with caring for his brother. His father turns to alcohol; his mother heroically tries to cope but is ground down by her troubles and consumed by anger. Sharma writes as if he knows the subject from the inside out (which he does), and we feel both sympathy and embarrassment for Ajay growing up in an alien culture and awkwardly trying to fit in with other kids at school. By sheer force of will, Ajay grows up to become a successful adult. The one drawback is that the last few brief chapters feel rushed after the more deliberate pace of the rest of the novel, which leaves readers wanting to know more. VERDICT This brave and honest work offers an unsentimental look at growing up and overcoming adversity when family life is very difficult indeed. [See Prepub Alert, 10/14/13.]--Leslie Patterson, Rehoboth, MA

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2013 December #2

The immigrant experience has been documented in American literature since those first hardy souls landed at Plymouth, and as the immigrants keep coming, so too do their stories. Sharma (An Obedient Father), who acknowledges the autobiographical elements in his new novel, tells a simple but layered tale of assimilation and adaptation. The Mishras come to America in the late-1970s, the father first, in the wake of new U.S. immigration laws and the Indian Emergency, when the narrator, Ajay, is eight, and his brother Birju is 12. There are lovely scenes of their life in Delhi before they leave, the mother making wicks from the cotton in pill bottles, the parade of neighbors when their plane tickets to America arrive. Sharma captures the experience for Ajay of being transported to a different country: the thrill of limitless hot water flowing from a tap; the trauma of bullies at school; the magic of snow falling; watching Birju, the favored son, studying hours each day and spending entire weekends preparing for the entrance exam at the prestigious Bronx High School of Science. Then a terrible tragedy irreparably alters the family and their fortunes. Sharma skillfully uses this as another window into the Indian way of accepting and dealing with life. A loving portrait, both painful and honest. (Apr.)

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