First-Year Text: Family Life

Study Guide

  1. The author of Family Life says that his father, when offered a chance to read the novel, said: Why? I was there.  The author’s mother, after reading the novel, said she didn’t understand why some things in the book were true and other’s not. 
    • Answer the mother’s question. What are the expectations and requirements of fiction that cause it to diverge from non-fiction?
    • Why would an author pick one form over the other?
    • Are there moral issues attached to each and how do they differ?
  2. Religion appears to play a large role in the life of the family and the life of the community. How do we articulate the hybrid nature of the religious practices that the novel presents? Is our interpretation of how religion is expressed in the novel based on our largely western understanding of religion and does this therefore lead to flawed readings of the novel? 
  3. All novels contain genres. Is this a coming-of-age novel, an immigrant novel, an illness novel? What are the plot points that these different novels tend to contain and to what extent does this novel contain them?
  4. Asian immigrants are often held forth as model immigrants. To what extent does the book both conform and challenge this stereotype
  5. What does the ending mean?
  6. What is the effect of the drawing of the flashlight?
  7. To what extent are the parents in the novel sympathetic? Admirable? How is it possible I both feel compassion for someone and also think the person is wrong?

Interviews with the Author

  • "Akhil Sharma and His New Novel, 'Family Life': The VICE Podcast 035." YouTube, uploaded by VICE, 7 Mar. 2014,

Selected Works by Akhil Sharma