Imagine trying to cope with the changes both within yourself and in the world around you as you are turning eight years old; then imagine trying to cope when the older brother you look up to and depend on has an accident that forever changes his life. Add to this the difficulties assimilating into a new country with new ways of doing things and you will have some idea of the challenges facing Ajay Mishra, who has recently emigrated with his family from India to 1978 New York City.
The novel is semi-autobiographical; author Akhil Sharma was only eight years old when he emigrated from New Delhi in India with his family. Like the protagonist in his novel, Sharma experienced racism from the average Joe in the street; he was spat at and cursed at because he was Indian. The seminal moment in his young life came when his older brother was involved in a swimming pool accident which left him in a coma for thirty years. Sharma experienced a surreal kind of limbo, still having a brother who was living, but whose participation in family life was predominantly in memory, as if he had been dead for the thirty years of his coma.
Sharma took thirteen years to write the novel; he wrote about the writing of the novel in an essay for The New York Times. The book was the recipient of the 2015 Folio Prize for Fiction, and the 2016 International Dublin Literary Award. At one hundred thousand euros, the Folio Prize is one of the richest literary prizes in the world. The novel was also selected as one of the best ten books of 2014 in both New York Magazine and The New York Times.