I can only imagine it’s a very difficult thing to put pen to paper and write your memoirs, particularly when it includes some painful elements of your life story. Akhil Sharma has chosen to go down a different road for Family Life, believing fiction to be the best way to get to the emotional truth of things. This way, you can tell the story without getting bogged down with trying to recall the accuracy of small facts.
The story is told from the perspective of Ajay, an eight-year-old boy about to leave India to go start a new life in America. His father feels insignificant in his own country and dreams that he’ll be a different person if he moves to America. His mother is happy working in India as a teacher, she think it’s the greatest job there is but knows a move could provide great opportunity for her sons, Birju and Ajay.
The world they experience in America is decribed as something beyond their imagination. There’s a sense of wonder at seeing a carpet in America, something previously only seen in movies. It’s decribed as being like looking at a painting. There’s new toys here to be enjoyed, new technologies, like the control that comes from pressing a button and the elevator coming.
We see the immigrant experience throught the eyes of child, with Ajay finding it weird to be in among so many white people in the classroom. High achievement in education is a big badge of honour with families showing off the achievements of their young ones and gaining a better status among the Indian community.
Family life changes utterly when Birju is in awful accident. There’s a real disbelief that everything than can be changed because of three minutes. This book brilliantly puts across the different ways people can handle things. Ajay talks about the different interpretations of things, something he sees in his reading of Hemingway. He sees his own suffering as something that belongs in a story.
Family Life is always totally engaging, mostly due to the voice of the young man telling the story. There’s constant humour throughout and real wisdom in its portrayal of people dealing with the same thing in very different ways.