I could not put this book down. I read this over two evenings and an lunch hour. The author discloses in the acknowledgement section that it took him took over 9 years to write this book. It made me feel guilty over finishing it in a few hours. The author went through his share of insomnia and panic attacks seven years into writing this novel. I recommend that you read his 2014 opinion piece on The New York Times: The Trick of Life where he talks about this rough period in his personal life. I have a link posted at the end of this review.
For about half of the book I thought it was an autobiography. Then the kid’s conversations with God had too much wisdom for his age. Then I flipped to the cover and it said a novel. For the second half I did not believe a lay person could know so many medical terms without experiencing it. Then I read online that this was a semi-autobiographical novel. That means the book in its essence with some parts fictionalized.
This book felt sadder than Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. That was a story about an Iranian immigrant family. This book about an Indian immigrant family is painstakingly real. You can feel for the new immigrant kid with an accent. Despite all the pressures, Ajay, the protagonist shows remarkable loyalty to his family. He hides his feelings and puts on a smiling face. This reminded me so much about the book My Search for Ramanujan: How I Learned to Count by Ken Ono. Both Sharma and Ono grew up in difficult circumstances. The common theme was the lack of parental love and appreciation. Both were kids of overwhelmed immigrant parents.
The book starts with Ajay right before the family emigrated. Its a beautiful peek into the daily life in New Delhi. Then comes the phase of the recent immigrants. The author takes us through a medical tragedy and how it affects each one in the family. It shows the sad reality of how acquaintances cannot empathize with them. Even in the family’s tragedy, the acquaintances only have selfish motives.
The book continues with academics, bullying, romance and aspirations to be like Hemmingway. The last phase is how his dad dealt with the pain. There could be two more books with each of the parent’s perspective. The author concludes with a happy ending which is likely true in life. But the ending did not feel true to the rest of the novel. I felt a bit like Dustin Hoffman in the movie Stranger than Fiction. He felt the story was weaker without the original sad ending. A sad fictional end would haunt a reader for days. Maybe it did have a sad ending. He was happy but felt heavy-hearted about it. Its subtle.
I am left wanting for more. This is an excellent read. It is surreal.
The New York Times: The Trick of Life by Akhil Sharma, this book’s author (https://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/06/opinion/sunday/the-trick-of-life.html)