Monday, January 19, 2015

An Obedient Father by Akhil Sharma

I read this book because I really liked Sharma's more recent novel, Family Life.  While I liked this, I was a bit disappointed as it was not of the same calibre.  First of all, the main character, Ram Karan, was quite distasteful.  Not only was his "profession" collecting bribes on behalf of a government department, he was also a pedophile and engaged in incest.  His deceased wife was also not great since she knew of the incest and, while she put a stop to it, she did not report him or even seek help for her daughter.  As a result, the daughter, Anita has grown into a bitter, angry and therefore vindictive woman.  Ram's granddaughter, Asha, is a sweet kid at the start but even she turns out to be a difficult adolescent.  In sum, it was hard to truly like any of the characters, though you could sympathize with those who were Ram's victims.

The story follows the fallout of Ram's incestuous actions, 20 years after they took place.  His wife has died and Anita and Asha are forced to move in with him when her husband dies suddenly and she is left with no money.  Their living together, and Anita's fear that Asha will become the next victim, lead to very strained relations and Anita eventually going public with what occurred.  However, due to the sexist environment they live in, her confession not only affects Ram's life, but also hers and Asha's.

This is all set against the backdrop of the election campaign between BJP and Rajiv Gandhi and the eventual assassination of Gandhi.  We see Ram and his colleagues scramble to figure out which party to support with the bribe monies they collect - in some cases with very disastrous results.  It's pathetic that oftentimes Ram seems more troubled by his work activities than the rape of his daughter.

Though it his hard to rally behind the characters, they are believable, particularly in the context of the environment they live in.  And the description of Delhi at that time are vivid - I could particularly relate to the description of the pollution making it feel like living inside a coal miner's lungs.

I recommend this book but you have to be prepared for the serious topic and the distasteful characters.

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