by Akhil Sharma
W.W. Norton and Company, 2014. 224 pgs. Fiction
Family Life is an intimate portrait of an Indian immigrant family told from the prospective of Ajay, the younger of two brothers in the Mishra family. The Mishra's leave Delhi is 1978 in pursuit of the American dream and land in Queens where Ajay's brother Birju quickly secures his parents love and praise by performing well in school and eventually earning a coveted spot in the Bronx High School of Math and Science. Tragedy strikes though when Birju in involved in an accident diving in a community pool which renders him brain damaged; unable to move or speak.
The family reels in grief; the father takes up drinking, the mother becomes a martyr celebrity in the Hindu community, and Ajay struggles between guilt, rage, and love for his brother as he tries to earn any attention from his parents who are consumed by care for Birju. Told with deep compassion and stark clarity this is a quick and moving read. The complexities that befall this family as they struggle to survive in a foreign land resonate with the struggles of any family who has tried to navigate the landscape of tragedy.