Family Life Review – Orgasmic Delight

Family Life Review - Orgasmic

On Diwali ….standing on the sidewalk…. I felt the life I was living in America was not important, that no matter how rich America was, how wonderful it was to have cartoons on TV, only life in India mattered.

– Ajay in Family Life by Akhil Sharma, P.35

It’s been a while since SI orgasmed over a book.

Akhil Sharma’s new novel Family Life did it for me.

Although I’d read some of the early chapters of the book as a short story in the New Yorker a few months back, the novel still turned out to be a riveting read, indescribable joy from beginning to end.

It was like Mithai from Bengali Sweets in Jersey City, NJ.

The book sent me into a drooling fit of ecstasy (the feeling, not the tablets)!

Mishras’ Story

At the center of this fine novel is the family of Mishras who migrated to the U.S. from Delhi in the 1970s.

Like so many migrants to the U.S., the Mishras drop anchor in Queens.

Things go swimmingly well for the family initially. Mr. Mishra has a decent job as an accountant in NYC. Mrs. Mishra works at a garment factory.

The two boys (Birju and Ajay) settle down and attend a local school in Queens.

Wow! Birju gets admission into the coveted Bronx High School of Science.

And then tragedy strikes with a ferocity!

A horrific tragedy that not merely saps the life out of the Mishras but reincarnates India, first in Virginia and then in New Jersey, in countless ways.

The family’s ‘reincarnation’ in the New Jersey suburbs is an extraordinary Indian-American tragi-comedy that kept me engrossed!


The book is narrated in the voice of the younger boy Ajay (a stand-in for the author in this semi-autobiographical novel).

India and the Indian experience in America come alive in Family Life with a humor and pathos rarely seen in print!

Since I’m an Indian immigrant familiar with India as well as NJ, NYC, and VA, I can relate well to the Mishras’ experience in both Delhi and America in Family Life.

Not merely Delhi, but descriptions of Oak Tree Road (in Edison/Iselin), Queens and New Jersey too jump to life for me!

Oak Tree Road, EdisonOak Tree Road, Iselin (NJ)

If I had any irritation with the book, it was that while so many pages are devoted to Ajay’s childhood and the aftermath of the family tragedy, his college and work years are compressed into just a few pages.

And the last sections seem a bit rushed.


I had the sudden realization that probably we would never go back to India, that probably we would live in America forever. The realization disturbed me. I saw that one day I would be nothing like who I was right there. I felt all alone. [p.98]


Akhil Sharma vs Jhumpa Lahiri

So how does Family Life compare to Jhumpa Lahiri’s new novel The Lowland?

I’ll confess to enjoying both works.

Jhumpa’s Lowland is set against the backdrop of a larger canvas, the Naxalite movement in West Bengal (the failed rebellion against the Indian state constitutes a key part of the book), although later events happen in the U.S.

Akhil Sharma’s novel on the other hand is rooted firmly within the confines of a small family, initially in Delhi and later in the U.S. (Queens, Virginia and New Jersey).

Family Life is kinda like Jhumpa’s Namesake (initially set in Kolkata and then in the U.S.), the story of a single family.

Now, don’t expect dramatic things to happen in Family Life because they don’t (other than the swimming pool tragedy in Virginia).

Family Life is a novel where the flow is more important than the ultimate destination.

Sadly, Akhil’s prose is not stellar. Not even a tenth as good as what you’d find in, say, Jonathan Miles’ new book Want Not.

His prose limitations notwithstanding, Akhil Sharma brings a single Indian family’s life in Amreeka to life in a manner I’ve rarely seen before.

Family Life should be available at most U.S. county and town libraries.

Reserve your copy today.

7 Responses to "Family Life Review – Orgasmic Delight"

  1. ravich   June 3, 2014 at 11:26 am

    Thanks for recommending this book.

    Absolutely wonderful read.

    More so as I live in Central NJ and work in NYC which is the area the story is based on.

    I wonder why no one has commented here before.

    Book reading has become a lost art in this distracting world of social media where Twitter and Facebook vie for your attention.

    I see very few people continuing to blog.

    Its good to have dedicated bloggers like SI. Responds:

    1. You write: I wonder why no one has commented here before.

    I suspect most SI visitors have the attention span of a Goldfish (3 seconds). πŸ˜‰

    Only two things give them a hard-on – Narendra Modi and Bollywood/Kollywood junk.

    2. Akhil’s descriptions of how Indian families behave, Oak Tree RD, Edison etc are nice to read because they’re so accurate….Reminds us of our own families back in India and now in the U.S.

    The only thing I found missing in Akhil’s book vis-a-vis Central NJ is mention of Dum Biryani, a bizarre fixation in Central NJ Indian restaurants lately. It seems like every other day a new Dum Biryani place is coming up. One more opened on Oak Tree Road a few weeks back.

    3. Here’s a book I’m currently reading by another South Asian (not Indian but a Bangladeshi-Briton):

    In the Light of What We Know by Zia Haider Rahman.

    I’ve read 83-pages so far…No complaints. The setting is Bangladesh, London, New York, Afghanistan with some mention of India & Pakistan. I’ll review the book on SI once I complete it.

    In the Light of What We Know too should be available at your Edison/Iselin libraries.

  2. ravich   June 4, 2014 at 4:00 pm

    Thanks. Will read In the Light of What We Know next.

    I am currently reading ‘Want Not‘ by Jonathan Miles.

    Btw, I borrow books from NYPL as I work in NYC.

    No time to go to libraries in NJ. Responds:

    You write: I am currently reading ‘Want Not

    You will never look at a trash bag on the curb in the same way.

    Ever again! πŸ˜‰

    • ravich   June 5, 2014 at 11:54 am

      If I ever lose my job and become homeless, I will gladly adopt Freeganism.

      Though I don’t think I can survive the cold winters in NYC.

      Will move South or West. Responds:

      Bah, NYC Winter is the easy part.

      The really hard part of Freeganism is the “used rubber on the lettuce.” πŸ˜‰

      P.14 last two paras and p.15 first two paras.

      The Black guy’s comments on the importance of Incorporation and the rest being mere Provocatization are hilarious.

      But I suppose the Black guy is right.

      Freeganism is not even a fringe but the fringe of the fringe.

  3. sam   June 5, 2014 at 8:54 am

    R u seeing Holiday (Thuppaki remake starring Akshay kumar)? Responds:

    1. Filmistaan seems like a better choice. I’ve seen the trailer and it looks a million times better than Holiday will be given that it’s a remake of that Tamil monstrosity Thuppakki.

    2. I’m still reeling from the after-effects of Thupakki.

    Thuppakki Review – Whopping Nonsense

    Only in India do people make remakes of garbage.

    I will most likely not see the Hindi version unless I develop an uncontrollable appetite for that Cow (Sonakshi).

  4. ravich   November 7, 2014 at 12:37 pm

    I finished reading Akhil Sharma’s first book An Obedient Father. Will send you its review soon.

    Am picking up Jo Nesbo’s The Son.

    Had never heard of him, but liked your review.

    Looking forward to reading it. Responds:

    1. I look forward to reading your review of An Obedient Father.

    2. Regarding Jo NesbΓΈ, 23 million copies sold in 40 languages!

    Scandinavian authors have hit the big time with crime thrillers.

    The best known is, of course, the late Stieg Larsson (of Dragon Tattoo books and films fame).

  5. Naveen   November 8, 2014 at 3:44 am

    Howdy SI!

    How are you?

    The comments section is closed for all the new posts but it is open here.

    Do you plan to review Interstellar? Responds:

    Hello Sweetie! Long time no hearing and all.

    1. You write: The comments section is closed for all the new posts but it is open here.

    Where there’s a will, there’s always an opening! πŸ˜‰

    2. I watched the Interstellar trailer a couple of times over the last few months and wasn’t impressed.

    No, I don’t plan on watching it.

    I’m extremely intrigued though by Brother of Bommali.

    Nothing to do with Boman Irani but a Telugu film going by the zany title. πŸ˜‰

  6. boopalanj   November 9, 2014 at 12:57 pm

    Hey SI,

    How’re you? Good health?

    Great that comments form is open here πŸ™‚

    Having a busy time? Responds:

    You write: How’re you? Good health?

    The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.

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