Cost of the 'American Dream' questioned

FAMILY LIFE<br><b>Akhil Sharma</b><br><i>Faber & Faber</i>
FAMILY LIFE<br><b>Akhil Sharma</b><br><i>Faber & Faber</i>
The title of this novel and its close analysis of one Indian family in sickness, not health, seems to me a clear nod to Family Matters, by Indian-born literary heavyweight Rohinton Mistry.

At only 210 pages, Delhi-born US-based Akhil Sharma's book is considerably more accessible than Mistry's epic, but no less bleak in its subject matter.

The family of this story comprises 8-year-old Ajay, the narrator, who lives in the shadow of his successful brother Birju, four years his senior, in a two-roomed Delhi rooftop dwelling with their parents, who do not get along.

Ajay's father has long fantasised about living in America, travels there to find work, and then sends for his family.

Nothing can prepare them for life in New York, nor the tragedy that befalls them soon after arrival. Its legacy dominates their lives and their relationships as each finds different ways to deal with their painful new reality.

This is a heartbreaking, deeply personal novel about love, grief, survival and the ties that bind, break and are borne.

It is beautiful but harrowing, and even when aspects of the ''American Dream'' are finally realised, the joy is muted, raising as they do questions about true value and happiness.

- Helen Speirs.

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