Family Life: Akhil Sharma

Akhil Sharma was my third Ubud Festival writer (so apparently the festivals work) and he rocked.  Family life is a touching immigrant story written with humor and wit.  A middle class Indian immigrant family making adjustments in US, runs aground when Birju, their eldest son, sustains brain damage and needs constant care.  Written from the POV of the younger son and penned without excessive sentimentality, Family Life is funny and tragic in turns.  Two areas where Akhil Sharma does really well: (i) The voice is brilliant.  I truly admire authors who can get into the minds of children and (ii) the precision of the language.  It is like each word has been chosen with care so that nothing is wasted.  On the whole, a very pleasant experience, despite the sudden and unwarranted end.

Recommendation: Read.

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Write Good or Die: Scott Nicholson

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A provocative title indeed.  Write Good or Die is a compendium of online articles on writing.  Rather than the craft though, many of these focus on the marketing side of writing.  And that’s the bit I found rather intriguing. The world of e-books is curious and exciting.  I can’t claim to understand it with reading one book – but it was interesting nonetheless.

Recommendation: Read if you seek to know more about e-books.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North: Richard Flanagan

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The Booker winner of 2014.  Richard attended the Writers and Readers festival in Ubud, Bali and spoke about it.  It sounded semi-interesting like most and then it went on to win the Booker (and I am sure making him a rich celebrity overnight).  The verdict: It deserves the Booker.  The Narrow Road traces the fate of Australians POWs who were tasked to build a railway line in Siam in WWII, amongst terrible conditions: diseases, atrocities and little food.  The story is strong, the scenes of disease, filth and beatings stark.  Takes courage and skills to write explicitly and precisely about those times.  The side story of Dr. Dorrigo Evans’ lost love functions well too.  The book bounces back and forth from the past to the present a number of times but the writing is so precise and all the sub-plots so interesting that it does not jar at all.  If anything, it adds to the charm of the book.  The only blemish, in my view, is the last seventy odd pages.  What happened to the Japanese oppressors and their life stories after the end of the war are neither interesting nor satisfying.  A summary description of their fate would have probably worked better.

Recommendation: A must read.

Finding Me: Michelle Knight

This is the real ‘Room’.  Michelle Knight was one of the three victims of Ariel Castro and was released from his captivity after 11 years.  Her real account of what happened to her during the time makes Emma Donaghue’s ‘Room’ – a fictionalized account of a woman in captivity – look like a picnic.  The brutal and constant rapes, chaining for long periods of time, the starving, her five abortions, her having to defecate in the room of her captivity, taking a shower after the gap of one year – just a few of the overt sufferings she went through  – are like a punch in the gut.  It is a riveting book.  The writing is not great but with such a story, the writing doesn’t matter.  It is a highly disturbing book and Michelle Knight comes out a bit blemished.  But with the life she has led, who could hold that against her.

Recommendation: Read.