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Late one June afternoon, seven months after my wedding, I woke from a short, deep sleep, in love with my husband.
Whether describing the tensions of an arranged marriage, the trauma of having an alcoholic mother, or the petty corruption of an Indian neighbourhood, Akhil Sharma’s stories always expose the cultural collisions – the paradoxes, ironies, and harmonies – that characterise modern life. What does it mean to be foreign? And can you find a home in exile?
In these elegant, unsparing and unusually intimate stories – five of which were first published in the New Yorker – the Folio Prize-winning author explores these questions with disarming honesty. Marrying the minimalism of Chekhov and Carver with an unparalleled flair for dark comedy, A Life of Adventure and Delight is a book of wisdom, wonder and poignant reflection from a writer courageous enough to explore the darkening margins of the psyche.
These beautiful, funny, intelligent short stories are told with such apparent simplicity ... The simplicity is Sharma’s effort to get past all the temptations of falsity, of false style and ready-made ideas. His writing shines its clean light, never mercilessly or voyeuristically, on these characters winding round and round inside the muddled opacity of their lives and their thoughts. They, as well as the writer, struggle for the truth ... Yet their vision is comic too, in the broadest, Chekhovian sense: robust and warm and ironic, not overwrought. The genius lies in the detail, in the gritty comical solidity of real things.
This slippery tone - at once amused and critical, resigned and outraged - infuses each of these eight haunting, revelatory stories ... bracingly direct, unassuming language ... boldly forthright and probing, [he] brings a keen cultural awareness to each of these stories ... It's a testament to the author's sensitive eye for human foibles that these characters are not only palatable but relatable, and this feat of empathy makes the implicit critique sting even more ... Perceptive, humane and pointed ...
The characters in Akhil Sharma’s wonderful, melancholy, funny collection of short stories are floundering: lost, lonely, at the mercy of their own emotions and their experiences of a world that is difficult to read and open to misinterpretation. Caught between cultures, and an awkward mixture of arrogance and vulnerability, they attempt to negotiate a way through, their soft corners continually caught on the sharp edges of reality.
The stories appear straightforward, but the underlying emotional complexities are anything but. Oscillating between composure and hysterical declaration, Sharma's male protagonists find themselves slowly unmanned by life’s vicissitudes ... Poised, luminous epiphanies. The prose’s serene surface always belies great turbulence below, with each story’s conclusion understated, ambiguous and quietly devastating.
Elegantly written, vivid and eye-openingly authentic.
Sharma’s ample talent and focus on technical literary achievement are on full display here… A keen Hemingway student, he has achieved commendable lucidity in his prose, making a conscious effort to free the narrative from weighty metaphors or descriptions of sense, smell or feel. In fact, he seems to be writing from a distance, as if wielding a very long nib, with each sentence a clean, measured stroke. That enables him to keep an even, if at times impersonal, voice that neither rises in anger nor quivers in sadness. Of the eight tales in this collection, “Surrounded by Sleep” stands out for its irony, its understated sadness and long shadows.
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