July 2000

Confusing victims and villains in an arresting debut

By Akhil Sharma
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Summer is a time for gripping books filled with action and adventure, and Akhil Sharma's novel An Obedient Father is not for the faint of heart. Sharma, a young and well-respected author, has painstakingly crafted an absorbing first novel that recalls the conflict and characters of Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment.

The story takes place in modern India and revolves around the startling experiences of an unimpressive older man named Ram Karan, who lives in a tiny flat with his widowed daughter and his traumatized granddaughter. His boring job and lackluster personality enhance, rather than dilute, the richness of the plot.

This novel is about crime and the mental battles that precede and follow it. The crimes committed by Sharma's characters range from incest and assassination to a shocking level of government corruption. Is planning a crime worse than knowingly allowing one to happen by accident? Passivity and powerlessness can be crimes as serious as murder, depending on the circumstances. Prepare to be stunned by the power of guilt, which can easily destroy or redeem.

Along with arresting psychological exertion, look forward to informative descriptions of Indian city life, historic religious power struggles, and government structure. Sharma explains the characters' surroundings simply, making it easy for those who have never been to India to imagine how the crowded Delhi streets teem with life, or how the rooftops of the city seem to recede into the sunset from the windows of Karan's flat.

Sharma describes the waves of tension that sweep through the city after the Sikhs assassinate Rajiv Gandhi. The development of the government's upheaval following Gandhi's assassination, along with Karan's frightening experience of it, yields a solid understanding of how the government is meant to function, and how weakness can destabilize it.

The author creates an interesting and exotic world, giving life to realistic characters of ambiguous morality. Instead of populating his steamy novel with good guys and bad guys, Sharma fills An Obedient Father with evil victims and pitiable villains. An interesting literary dimension awaits the reader at every turn in this fine debut novel.

Amy Ryce writes from Charlottesville, Virginia.

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An Obedient Father

An Obedient Father

By Akhil Sharma
ISBN 9780374105013

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