Akhil Sharma ’92’s new novel, Family Life, earned front-page billing in this week’s New York Times Book Review — a notable distinction for an author whose only previous novel was published more than a decade ago. Reviewer Sonali Deraniyagala’s generous praise for the “riveting” and “brilliant” semi-autobiographical story stood in stark contrast to Sharma’s experience writing it, which he described in an essay, also published in the Sunday Times:
“Seven years into writing a novel, I started to lose my mind. … I would sit at my desk at 2 in the morning, unable to sleep, and drink pot after pot of tea and try to write. The panic attacks came then. I would be staring at the screen, examining a paragraph that I had already rewritten 170 times. Suddenly the screen would start to ripple, as if I were peering through water, and I would feel a pain like a punch in the chest. Months passed this way. My chest felt constantly bruised.”
Sharma went on to explain how a cathartic ride with a friend helped to change his outlook and enable him to eventually finish the novel, which deals with a family tragedy similar to the one that he endured when his brother was paralyzed after diving into a swimming pool as a teenager.
While the specific events in the novel are drawn from personal experience, Sharma also tries to connect with universal themes. “I tend to think that we are all pretty much alike,” he explained in a Q&A forGuernica magazine, with friend and fellow novelist Mohsin Hamid ’93. “We all feel despair. We all have problems with relationships. We all become afraid. We all look at others and think these other people are more fortunate than us.”