کتاب زندگی خانوادگی

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همان‌طور كه پياده به آن سمت خيابان كه ايستگاه اتوبوس در آن‌جا بود می‌رفتم، آخرين تصويری كه از بيرجو در خانه ديدم را به ياد آوردم، كه در اتاق تاريك و ساكتش با دهانی باز بر روی تختش خوابيده بود و خرخر می‌كرد. ياد مادرم افتادم چون صبح او را ديدم كه ملحفه‌ها و روبالشی‌های كثيف شب قبل بيرجو را به زور در ماشين لباس‌شويی‌مان می‌چپاند. نه تنها زندگی‌ام از برادرم بهتر بود، بلكه انگار از مادرم هم خوش‌شانس‌تر بودم. دلم می‌خواست جيغ بزنم تا از دردهايم خالی شوم. شايد بخشی از وجودم از اين‌كه وضعيتم بهتر از بيرجو است خوشحال باشد، اما هرگز نمی‌خواستم روزی را ببينم كه در آن از مادرم هم خوش‌شانس‌تر هستم. اين‌كه بخت و اقبال بهتری از مادرم داشته باشم برايم حكم متفاوت بودن از او را داشت، انگار كه از او دور افتاده باشم، انگار اين شانس و اقبال مرا از او و زندگی‌اش جدا می‌كرد؛


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** spoiler alert **
@Family
Family Life

4.5 starts

I loved this book. It felt honest and profound. For such a short read it was very intense and powerful. I have taken a few days to write this review, to let some feeling and thoughts settled down first.
This novel is elegant and beautiful. It’s also dark and tragic, but it also has its share of light and funny moments.
Indian-American author Akhil Sharma has been described as a “supreme storyteller” and after reading this novel I can see why. This is a story about immigrants, tragedy, religion and traditions, race, and ultimately about the pursuit of happiness gone wrong. There’s not strong plot on this book, it mostly narrates events as they happen.

Family Life begins in the present moment and then flashes back .The novel is written in 1st person narrative, Ajay, who is the younger of two brothers, is the narrator.

One of my pet peeves when reading books narrated by children characters is to find that the dialogue doesn’t feel real. I hate when a 10-year old that sounds more like he or she is 25!!
To this point, I found that at moments Ajay in fact, had a voice that sounded a little bit too mature for his years. The author explained that by using flashbacks as a device, he tried to circumvent this problem.

This is how he explained it in an interview:
“The logic of it was that I wanted to figure out a way to allow the language of the eight-year old, the nine-year old be a little more sophisticated. And so by making clear that this was retrospective, it allowed some of that complexity to come through to the younger Ajay”

At the beginning of the book (I listened to the audiobook version) and I got a little confused and thought that perhaps I was reading a memoir and not a work of fiction. Later on a fellow GR reader sent me an article that mentions that Mr. Sharma indeed wrote this book as a semi-autobiographical account of his own family experience coming to America.

The novel follows The Mishras, an Indian family that emigrated to America in the late 1970’s.
When we first meet the family, they are still in Delhi, waiting for their planes tickets to arrive so they can start their new lives in America.
When they arrived in New Jersey, their father is waiting for them. At the beginning, both 8 year-old Ajay, and his older brother Birju, are amazed at what they find in their new country: elevators, doors that open automatically, they even find carpets thrilling. America is all they had expected and more.

Young Ajay points out, “In India during winter, my mother used to get up early to heat pots of water on the stove so we could bathe … During the coming days, the wealth of America kept astonishing me. The television had programming from morning till night. In our shiny brass mailbox in the lobby, we received ads on colored paper. The sliding glass doors of our apartment building would open when we approached.@

A few years into their lives in their new country, and while the family is looking at houses with the idea of buying one; young Ajay has a “sudden realization that probably we will never go back to India, that probably we will live in America forever”. I think most immigrants at one point of another experience a similar situation and decision. This brings with it the understanding that the person you left behind is in the past, and you will probably become a very different “you” in this new land. Such a realization could be particularly disturbing for kids, which for the most part have not control over their lives and where their parents choose to live.

Our narrator Ajay is smart, and inquisitive. He can also be, stubborn and even mean sometimes. But it is in Birju, the older of the two brothers, where the family has put their immediate expectations for a brighter future. When Birju is accepted into a prestigious high school, everything seems to be going well as this confirms their hopes that Birju is destined to do great things.
What happens instead is that tragedy strikes when Birju hits his head diving into a pool. He is severely brain-damaged and his future is changed forever all within the span of 3 minutes. He’ll never recover and fulfil his dreams. He’ll never talk, walk or recognize anybody.

At first 10-year old Ajay doesn’t seem to realize the gravity of the situation and he casually muses, that if Birju were dead, “I would get to be the only son.”

After this horrible incident occurs, the dynamic of the family is shaken to its core. Ajay finds himself extremely lonely as his parents, and especially his mother, is consumed with the idea that her son will somehow recovered. Besides Ajay, Mrs. Mishra is most important character in this novel. She is a resilient, strong woman, we can sense her profound grief, and how she chooses to deal with it. She insists that Birju is in a “coma”, because she’s not ready to accept the reality that her son is brain-dead.
She invites numerous “miracle workers” with the hope that one of them will perform a miracle and bring her lost son back. It’s heartbreaking to see her get lost and her identity in the process.

Times passes and life for the Mishras revolves around taking care of Birju and attending and providing for his medical needs. The parents fight a lot. The father becomes an alcoholic.
One Christmas Day, Ajay bursts into tears, and tells his parents that he too deserves something, for enduring so much sadness, at least some pizza. “I am so sad,” Ajay tells his father one evening. “You’re sad?” his father responds; “I want to hang myself every day”.

Ajay has conversations with God; he feels guilty for being the one person of the family that still seems to have luck on his side. I found these ruminations he has with God, charming, funny and authentic. He tries cajoling God into making deals to improve things for both his brother and himself.

Ajay also discovers literature, this serves as a saving grace for him in the middle of such much despair. I found the passages where he studies Hemingway’s style of writing truly wonderful and poignant.

This novel shows how unsettling experiencing a tragedy such as this can be to any family, and how it can make any family deeply dysfunctional. But there are also beautiful moments, especially between Ajay and his mom, in which they put aside hostility and hurt and come together to take care of Birju and each other.
I found admirable to see how the Mishras enjoyed the moral support of many other Indian families. Their immigrant community plays an important role in helping them throughout the years. Not everybody has their best interest at heart though, some friends are loyal and honorable while others abandon them in their time of need and yet others try to take advantage and exploit their situation.
And of course, Ajay grows up; falls in love, applies for college, makes plans for his future. When he eventually leaves his home, he gets a chance to at least try to have a normal life.

Ajay and his family continue to assimilate more and more into the American way of life. He becomes an investment banker and accomplishes financial success. But towards the end of the novel we see how very broken he is. At the end the question is, was the prize for his success too high?
We have a strong feeling that something didnt go the way it was supposed to.

Family Life ends when Ajay, in the present, comes to a strong, very sudden realization. As to whether or not I found the ending of the novel satisfying, I believe the author put it best when he said ““to me, the book still feels undone”.
Whether or not you are an immigrant (like me) or not, I think that many will relate with this story and the difficulties of adjusting to a new life, a new place, a new language, a new beginning. In that sense, this is a pretty universal story.

The Narrator of the audiobook Vikas Adam did a great job at bringing this novel to life for me. He was particularly skillful at switching between Indian and American accents, both for female & male characters, which can be quite tricky.



مشاهده لینک اصلی
Yet again, one of those books which you read from start to finish in almost one breath. And which leave you breathless. Not a very long book, yet such tremendous detailing and superb plot outline! With narration that leaves you speechless. Pardon the use of so many cliches but this one book that truly deserves it. Akhil Sharma talks about things that a lot of emigrant Indians go through. And this may have been talked about by other authors as well. But the passionate telling of the story makes one keep the faith in contemporary writers. Its the things that we miss yet can matter so much, that makes Sharmas writing simply stand above the rest. One of my best reads for this year indeed.

مشاهده لینک اصلی
Ajay is eight years old, he is in India with his mother and older brother, waiting for his father, who had gone to America a year before, to send them tickets to join him. The tickets arrive and they leave, becoming immigrants in a land very unfamiliar to them.

At first things are strange and this semi autobiographical novel does a great job describing everything Ajay sees and does. When automatic doors open, he feels very important, elevators are a source of wonder, but there are adjustments as well. Than misfortune strikes the family, and things will never be the same again.

Told is simple prose, our narrator Ajay, must deal with complex problems. With humor and compassion the author leads us through the land mine that becomes Ajays and his familys new lives. Ajay must find a way to thrive in this new life and mostly he must do it alone.

Ajay is a wonder, I quite fell in love with him. The way he sees, the way he acts are all so realistic. One cannot help pulling for him, wanting things to turn out well for him. Also real are the stresses on the family, the falling apart before the putting back together. Sharma has done a wonderful job with this novel.

مشاهده لینک اصلی
“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” So wrote Leo Tolstoy over a century ago. Akhil Sharma’s canvas is a distinctly unhappy family, and we’re alerted to it from the very first line: “My father has a glum nature. He’s been retired for a few years and he doesn’t speak much.”

There’s a reason for his father’s glumness. As Indian immigrants, Ajay (the young narrator’s) parents had high hopes for their life in America, mainly centering around Ajay’s older brother Birju – a brilliant young scholar. Early on in the novel, Birju dives into a swimming pool, striking his head, leaving him forever brain damaged. It is now up to Ajay to navigate the treacherous waters ahead: deal with his own guilt and resentment and at the same time, strive to remain happy and make his parents proud.

Akhil Sharma does not go for bells and whistles. The narrative is written in a spare and somewhat flattened tone, echoing the sense of loss and futility that pervades the closed-down Mishra family life. The price exacted by this personal tragedy – the isolation and alienation, the deceptions, the drinking and loss of identity – are balanced against a somewhat empty striving for the American dream.

I was alerted to the fact that Family Life could be autobiographical by Ajay’s budding sense of himself as an observer and recorder of his life, reimagined into fiction. (Ajay is particularly enamored of Hemingway and indeed, Mr. Sharma’s style here is not unlike Hemingway’s in its distancing of emotion). Sure enough, after Googling the author, Family Lie is indeed based on his own experiences. In an article, Mr. Sharma states, “The story I was planning to tell had very little plot. A truly traumatic thing occurs to the family and then the family begins to unravel. This misery of this family’s daily life takes a slow toll.”

To the book’s credit, it comes across as very authentic and believable without any of the manipulation one might expect from a topic of this sort. It is universal in examining a family’s response to loss and distinctive in its spotlight on the Indian community in general, and the Mishra family in particular. It is a genuine look at those who are forced to embark into unchartered territory and how, as an immigrant nation, we become removed not only from our roots but also from our own best selves.


مشاهده لینک اصلی
There are some wonderful moments in Akhil Sharmas Family Life, largely in how the protagonist, Ajay, sees the world. He often has a view that is juvenile, yet insightful. These glimpses of Ajays perspective give this novel its strength, but it hinges far too much on these occasions. The story and characters all seem to revolve around these moments in Ajays life, and while that may be the point, it does not lend to the most enjoyable read. The novel lacked a singularity that could keep me interested. The person meant to unify the novel is unable to be much of a character, due to circumstances. Family Life is full of good glimpses, the potential for excellent short stories, but as a novel—which was the intention here—it did not gel.

There is an interview with the author in the Advance Readers copy I read. I hope this will be included with the final product, because I do feel it gives some insight into the writer and his possible rationale in regards to crafting this novel. This is a very personal story; in fact, it very closely mirrors the authors own. I understand the authors desire to write a novel and not a memoir, but for whatever reason it seemed to me the author was distanced from the subject. He was close to Ajay—very close—but everything else seemed irrelevant to the story. Sharma could replace these characters and circumstances with others and I dont think I would notice a difference.

If you like stories about Indians or families, you may like this novel. I think the authors talented, but personally I couldnt connect with this one. The narrator was memorable, however, and that may be enough to lead me back to this author again.

مشاهده لینک اصلی
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