We meet the Mishra family in Delhi in 1978, where eight-year-old Ajay and his older brother Birju play cricket in the streets, waiting for the day when their plane tickets will arrive and they and their mother can fly across the world and join their father in America.Read more...
We meet the Mishra family in Delhi in 1978, where eight-year-old Ajay and his older brother Birju play cricket in the streets, waiting for the day when their plane tickets will arrive and they and their mother can fly across the world and join their father in America. America to the Mishras is, indeed, everything they could have imagined and more: when automatic glass doors open before them, they feel that surely they must have been mistaken for somebody important. Pressing an elevator button and the elevator closing its doors and rising, they have a feeling of power at the fact that the elevator is obeying them. Life is extraordinary until tragedy strikes, leaving one brother severely brain-damaged and the other lost and virtually orphaned in a strange land. Ajay, the family's younger son, prays to a God he envisions as Superman, longing to find his place amid the ruins of his family's new life.
Heart-wrenching and darkly funny, Family Life is a universal story of a boy torn between duty and his own survival.
Book clubs: Turning toward home
Set in Little Wing, Wisconsin, Nickolas Butler’s Shotgun Lovesongs is a poignant portrayal of life in the Midwest. The novel centers on a group of friends who grew up in Little Wing and still call the town home. Each of these 30-somethings takes a turn at narrating the story. Ronny, a former rodeo star, is struggling to find his footing in the world. Henry has a farm, a wife and kids. Kip, who made big bucks in stocks in Chicago, is using his fortune to revive Little Wing’s long-shuttered feed mill. And then there’s Lee, a promising musician (loosely based on real-life Wisconsinite Justin Vernon of Bon Iver) whose career has taken off thanks to an album recorded in a local chicken coop. Butler’s group of lifelong buddies feels genuine, and he infuses their conflicts, regrets and triumphs with wonderful detail. He also captures the special sense of melancholy that comes with the approach of middle age. Shotgun Lovesongs is a debut novel, but it reads like the work of a seasoned author.
RETREAT TO AUSCHWITZ
In Paradise, the final novel from Peter Matthiessen, who died last year at the age of 86, is a haunting exploration of the Holocaust and the ways in which its reach has extended into the modern age. In 1996, Clements Olin, an English professor from America, attends a weeklong spiritual retreat at Auschwitz. He plans to spend his time there doing literary research, but he becomes involved with a diverse group of participants—Jews, Zen Buddhists and Germans, many of whom have come to the retreat seeking some form of resolution. They pray and meditate in the crematoria and on the platform where victims were chosen for the camps. Olin’s own story—including his unsuccessful marriage, various love affairs and the discoveries he makes about his family’s past—unfolds against this powerful backdrop. A remarkable endnote from a revered author, this is a brave, unflinching narrative about humanity’s deep-seated need for understanding. It’s a triumphant addition to Matthiessen’s epic body of work—one that reinforces his reputation as a fearless writer.
TOP PICK FOR BOOK CLUBS
Akhil Sharma’s Family Life is a masterfully crafted novel that examines the immigrant experience and the ties that bind parents and siblings. Narrator Ajay Mishra tells the story of his family’s arrival in New York from New Delhi—a trip they make in 1979. Ajay’s brother, Birju, lands a spot at a notable prep school, and his father has a job with the government. The family seems set for a fresh start. But when Birju suffers an accident that leads to brain damage, the Mishras have to change course yet again. Caring for Birju becomes a top priority that introduces new tensions into their daily lives. In the midst of this turmoil, Ajay manages to excel in school and chart a course for a successful future. His matter-of-fact narration brings balance to a story filled with incident and drama. It’s an unforgettable depiction of a family battered by fortune and of the ways in which the human spirit endures.