Thursday, April 18, 2024

Book Review: Family Life by Akhil Sharma

Have you ever wondered about the lives of families who have a loved one chronically ill or the families who have loved ones who can’t do anything themselves and need someone to take care of them? How do these families manage? How do they cope? How is their life different from normal families?

Family Life by Akhil Sharma published in 2014 answers some of those queries as it tells us about one such family. 

The story starts in Delhi where the narrator Ajay who is eight years old is living with his middle-class family. He has an elder brother, mother, and father. His father has moved to America for work as he always wanted to, and the rest of the family is waiting for their tickets. During this waiting period you learn about their life in Delhi and get to see this city in the seventies with streets empty of traffic, children playing cricket in the middle of the street, people going to theatres to watch films as there was no cable and not even VCR. Postman doing delivery of parcels and asking for an award (read it as money) in exchange for some good news. 

In America, they come across new things which they never imagined like toilet paper, hot water coming out of the tap in the bathroom, carpets on the floor, sliding glass doors and traffic lights. Their initial two years passed on smoothly. Ajay’s elder brother Birju gets admission in a prestigious school. His mother starts working in a garment factory which is a demotion for her as in India she was a teacher, but she is okay with it for her kid’s future. 

So, it was all good for them until the day which changed everything. For the summer holidays, both Ajay and his brother Birju were visiting their aunt. Birju went swimming and had an accident. He dived into the swimming pool, struck his head at the bottom and remained underwater for three minutes. This causes massive brain damage which makes him blind and unable to move and talk. 

Birju remains in a hospital for some time but because hospitals have done whatever they could for his case, so they insisted on moving him to a nursing home and from then on starts financial struggle for the family along with of course emotional, mental, and physical struggle. Good nursing homes are expensive and in the cheap ones, you don’t get good care. This book also talks about the struggle of families with the insurance system and the meager compensation families get when they file a lawsuit which in this case they did as there was a life coach available and still Birju remained under water for three minutes. 

But majorly, it talks about the struggle of each family member. The mother of the family gets so engrossed in taking care of the eldest son that she forgets everyone including herself and works tirelessly to get his son better. She tries anything that could be tried which includes asking help from miracle workers. Father gets depressed which leads him to addiction to alcohol. Ajay, the narrator, was just ten years old when the accident happened. He doesn’t get the kind of attention he is supposed to get from both parents. He is lonely both at home and at school. His parents fight daily, and he gets to see it all. He is also a support system to take care of Birju. After school he visits hospitals and nursing homes unlike children of his own age. His life revolves around his brother’s illness. 

This book is about a sad event that happened in a family and the repercussions of it but at the same time there are moments when you will also find humor just like any other family. 

Interesting fact, it is based on the author’s own life. He is also from Delhi and moved with his family to America. His brother got into an accident in the exact way described in the book. So why is this not a memoir and a fiction novel? In one of the interviews, Akhil Sharma the author of the book shared that 70 percent of this book is truth and 30 percent is fiction and that is why it is a novel and not a memoir. And what exactly is fiction in this book? It is the dialogue. This 30 per cent gave the author freedom to write the dialogues the way he wanted, it also helped him to collapse time, blend characters and ignore vast bits of his life which he thought were irrelevant. Family Life won the Author Folio Prize in 2015. This is a book that deserves to be read.


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