Congratulations to Akhil Sharma

Akhil Sharma Family Life pb coverLast week Indian-American novelist Akhil Sharma won the Folio Prize for his novel Family Life. I met Akhil when he visited London last spring to talk about his eagerly awaited second book. Akhil was born in New Delhi and migrated to the US in the late seventies. Having initially pursued a career in investment banking, he came to prominence as a writer in 2001 with his first acclaimed novel, An Obedient Father, which won that year’s Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award (available from Faber). Akhil Sharma was named as one of Granta’s Best of Young American Novelists in 2007, so expectations around his second novel were considerable, but the process of writing that book was for Akhil a long and painful one – as you’ll hear in this interview, he likens the many drafts the book went through to a war of attrition. It’s testament to Akhil’s skill that the reader is unaware of those years of labour, as she races through the story of Ajay Mishra who, like his creator, came to America aged eight, and like his creator had a brother who was left permanently brain-damaged by a terrible swimming pool accident, which changed the lives of everyone in the family beyond recognition. It’s a story of immigration and of illness, yes, but perhaps most of all, as the title puts it with disarming simplicity, a story of family life, warts and all, told with humour, warmth, and a complete absence of sentimentality. This novel comes with a reputation of having been a dozen years in the making, so my first question for Akhil was about the transition from those years at his desk to at last going out into the world to talk about it.

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