Family_lifeFew authors, after receiving a prestigious literary prize, wish they had not written the winning book. But Akhil Sharma, newly crowned winner of the Folio Prize, is no ordinary author – and the traumatic 13-year process of writing his acclaimed novel, he said, has left him “damaged”.

Family Life, the prize-winning work, is an intensely personal novel which fictionalises his family’s move to the US – a move that was shattered by a devastating tragedy. He started writing at the age of 30, and now, at 43, and on the night of the award, said that the effort had “shattered my youth”.

Indian-American writer’s winning book, Family Life, which took him 13 years to complete, is praised by head judge as ‘a masterful novel of distilled complexity’

akhil_sharmaThe Indian-American writer Akhil Sharma has been named winner of the second Folio prize for fiction for a novel which took him 13 long and painful years to complete, charting one emigrant family’s heartwrenching search for the American dream.

Writing it, he admitted after receiving the £40,000 prize, was a frustrating, difficult challenge, often “like chewing stones” with around nine wasted years when it did not go well. “I’m glad the book exists, I just wish I hadn’t been the guy who wrote it,” he said.

A writer is not his books, says Amitava Kumar. He is only as good as his sentences. Reading and meeting Akhil Sharma proves his point: Indian Quarterly

akhil_sharmaAt the beginning of Akhil Sharma’s new book, Family Life, there is a description of the narrator’s father outside their two-room barsaati on a rooftop in Delhi. The bathroom has a sink attached to the outside wall. Here is the sentence I want to share with you: “Each night my father would stand before the sink, the sky full of stars, and brush his teeth till his gums bled.”

Upon reading that sentence, I have stepped into the world of Akhil Sharma’s writing. Simple words, simple phrases; but there is nothing simple about the world being described. There are the stars, and there is blood—in the same breath, we have both beauty and death.

A troubled story about the loneliness and despair of an Indian family whose American dream turns sour: Kristy Gunn in The Guardian

Family_lifeWhat might it be like to be a member of a poor family living in Delhi that has emigrated to America? What job might your father do there? Where might you live? Family Life, the second widely acclaimed novel from the Indian-American writer Akhil Sharma, answers these questions. Look, every page seems to say: this is our apartment; this is what we eat. Listen, it says, how different it is here. And so we look and learn, while, in simple, straightforward prose, Family Life lays out a story of unbearable loss and estrangement. For not only is this novel about leaving a homeland for a new world in which nothing is like home, it is about another kind of migration altogether, which takes a family from everyday reality into a dark, secret place where grief has enclosed them.

Sharma’s second novel, Family Life, took more than 12 years to write. Telling the story of a family wrought by tragedy, it mirrors his own harrowing story: The Guardian

akhil_sharma‘It took 12-and-a-half years and I can’t believe how bad that time was,” says Akhil Sharma. “I was such a different person when I began writing it that I feel as if I’ve shattered my youth on this book. I still find it hard to believe that it’s over, and I have this constant fear that I need to go and sit at my computer.” Sharma is talking about his second novel, Family Life, which is published in the UK next week. It tells the autobiographical story of a family’s emigration from India to the US in the late 1970s, and how an accident that left the elder son severely brain-damaged brought them close to collapse. The book has already been published to much acclaim in the US – “Deeply unnerving and gorgeously tender at its core” said the New York Times – matching the praise Sharma received when he emerged in the late 90s with prize-winning short stories and then a 2001 debut novel, An Obedient Father, which won the PEN/Hemingway award. But the positive response to Family Life still feels “almost as unreal as the book being done,” he says. The intervening period of silence – although he was named on Granta’s 2007 list of best young American writers – has not been easy.

akhil_sharmaAkhil Sharma on his twelve and half year-long journey, writing 7,000 pages for a novel, Family Life:

 

I was once at a party where I met a famous writer. I told him I had learned that novelists could rent apartments at the American Academy of Arts in Rome for a low price. I offered this bit of information almost as a gift, thinking that the famous writer might want to take advantage of it. This writer liked me. He laughed affectionately and said, “Oh Akhil, there are so many things you get when you are famous.”

With my first book, I had noticed that my book had gotten one page in my publisher’s book catalogue and that a friend of mine who was publishing at the same time in the same house had gotten two pages. I had known that the publishing house had had a lunch for him to meet the press and not for me.

The author of the year’s first great novel reflects on the 12 long years it took to finish these 200 pages: Salon

akhil_sharmaYou spent 12 and a half years writing the book and produced something like seven thousand pages. Seven thousand pages. How did you cope with that? What was it like?

Awful. I felt crazy. I wrote with a stopwatch. I kept it by my keyboard. My goal was to write for five hours every day. If a phone call came, I would stop the stopwatch. If I checked my email, I would stop the stopwatch. I measured my productivity based on time instead of word count because I could write plenty of pages without them going anywhere. Having the stopwatch read five hours meant I had proof that I was not being lazy, that I was actually working.