Writer to Writer: Akhil Sharma and George Packer
Monday April 14, 2014
Photo credit: Bill Miller | Photo credit: Guillermo Riveros
Akhil Sharma appeared to discuss his latest book, Family Life, with New Yorker staff writer George Packer, author of The Unwinding. The evening featured a reading, discussion and audience Q&A, followed by a book signing and wine reception.
About Family Life (W.W. Norton & Co)
Hailed as a "supreme storyteller" (Philadelphia Inquirer) for his "cunning, dismaying and beautifully conceived" fiction (New York Times), Akhil Sharma is possessed of a narrative voice "as hypnotic as those found in the pages of Dostoyevsky" (The Nation). In his highly anticipated second novel, Family Life, he delivers a story of astonishing intensity and emotional precision.
We meet the Mishra family in Delhi in 1978, where eight-year-old Ajay and his older brother Birju play cricket in the streets, waiting for the day when their plane tickets will arrive and they and their mother can fly across the world and join their father in America. America to the Mishras is, indeed, everything they could have imagined and more: when automatic glass doors open before them, they feel that surely they must have been mistaken for somebody important. Pressing an elevator button and the elevator closing its doors and rising, they have a feeling of power at the fact that the elevator is obeying them. Life is extraordinary until tragedy strikes, leaving one brother severely brain-damaged and the other lost and virtually orphaned in a strange land. Ajay, the family’s younger son, prays to a God he envisions as Superman, longing to find his place amid the ruins of his family’s new life.
Heart-wrenching and darkly funny, Family Life is a universal story of a boy torn between duty and his own survival.
“Outstanding…Every page is alive and surprising, proof of [Sharma’s] huge, unique talent.”
— David Sedaris
" 'Family Life' is devastating as it reveals how love becomes warped and jagged and even seemingly vanishes in the midst of huge grief. But it also gives us beautiful, heart-stopping scenes where love in the Mishra family finds air and ease."
— Sonali Deraniyagala, The New York Times
About The Unwinding (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
American democracy is beset by a sense of crisis. Seismic shifts during a single generation have created a country of winners and losers, allowing unprecedented freedom while rending the social contract, driving the political system to the verge of breakdown, and setting citizens adrift to find new paths forward. In The Unwinding, George Packer tells the story of the past three decades by journeying through the lives of several Americans, including a son of tobacco farmers who becomes an evangelist for a new economy in the rural South, a factory worker in the Rust Belt trying to survive the collapse of her city, a Washington insider oscillating between political idealism and the lure of organized money, and a Silicon Valley billionaire who arrives at a radical vision of the future. Packer interweaves these stories with sketches of public figures, from Newt Gingrich to Jay-Z, and collages made from newspaper headlines, advertising slogans, and song lyrics. Packer’s novelistic and kaleidoscopic history of the new America is his most ambitious work to date.
“Packer has a keen eye for the big story in the small moment, writing about our fraying social fabric with talent that matches his dismay.”
— Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Akhil Sharma is an award-winning novelist and short story writer. His novel An Obedient Father won the Pen Hemingway Prize and his short stories have been published in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly and have been anthologized inBest American Short Stories.
George Packer is a staff writer for The New Yorker and the author of eight books, including two novels, a play, and five works of non-fiction. The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America won the 2013 National Book Award. The Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq received several prizes and was named one of the ten best books of 2005 by The New York Times Book Review. He is the editor of a two-volume edition of the essays of George Orwell, and of The Fight Is for Democracy: Winning the War of Ideas in America and the World. His play Betrayed, based on a New Yorker article, ran Off Broadway in New York for five months in 2009 and received the Lucille Lortell Award for Outstanding Play. He lives with his family in Brooklyn.