Tale of Family Life that took 13 years to write scoops International Dublin Literary Award and €100k prize

Akhil Sharma. Picture: Jason Clarke

The Indian-American novelist Akhil Sharma has won the International Dublin Literary Award for his second novel, Family Life. He is the 21st winner of the €100,000 prize.

Family Life is a fictionalised account of his own family’s move from Delhi to New York in the late 1970s. All seems to be going well until the elder son suffers a catastrophic brain injury which leaves him requiring round-the-clock care. The novel charts the strains on the family from the point of view of the younger son, Ajay, who is eight years old when the novel starts.

“The real value of the award, aside from the money, is that it draws attention to the book,” said Sharma, who still lives in New York. “You need to sell a certain amount of copies in order for word of mouth to kick in, and awards help.”

While the Dublin award is the second for Family Life, following the prestigious Folio Prize, it was an outsider on a shortlist that included Marlon James’ Booker-winning A Brief History of Seven Killings and the technically ambitious The End of Days by the German writer Jenny Erpenbeck.

A short novel, Family Life had a long gestation: Almost 13 years, during which 7,000 pages became fewer than 300. “Somehow,”said Sharma, “I needed to generate the material to draw on by writing it out. But there was a specific problem I was running into: The book doesn’t have causation. An accident occurs. In a traditional book, the accident would be a triggering event. Figuring out a way to create the velocity of causation took me forever.”

He said: “I wanted the book to be of service to people. I’ve had experiences which are difficult and I’ve had experiences which I think are universal. There’s comfort in knowing you’re not unique in your suffering. There is something about a book like this that takes away that feeling.”

The Dublin prize, until last year sponsored by IMPAC, is administered and sponsored by Dublin City Council. The nominees come from library networks in 118 cities in 43 countries, with a longlist of 160 titles selected this year.

The shortlisted novels for 2016 were Outlaws by Javier Cercas, translated from Spanish by Anne McLean; Academy Street by Mary Costello; Your Fathers, Where Are They? And The Prophets, Do They Live Forever? by Dave Eggers; Diary of the Fall by Michel Laub, translated from Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa; Our Lady of the Nile by Scholastique Mukasonga, translated from French by Melanie Mauthner; Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill; and Lila by Marilynne Robinson.


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