LONDON (Reuters) - It took him 13 years to write and publish it, or as he puts it, “my 30s”, but U.S. author Akhil Sharma won the second annual Folio literary prize and 40,000 pounds ($59,752) on Monday for his novel “Family Life”.
Sharma, 43, was selected from a shortlist of eight authors for the prize for his semi-autobiographical novel about an Indian family that immigrates to the U.S. and the tragedy that “turns their American dream” into a “nightmare” when one of their sons is severely brain damaged following an accident.
He draws on personal experience. He was born in India and left for the U.S with his family when he was younger. His brother was involved in an accident that left him brain damaged.
“This friend of mine began dating a woman and soon after she got sick so he began taking care of her. He was there for her at the hospital, put the hospital bed together; he was there for her when she died,” said Sharma.
“He was with her for five years and he said ‘I don’t really love her that much. I‘m glad somebody was there because it’s awful to be sick alone; I just wish I hadn’t been the poor schmuck’ and I have that same feeling towards the book.”
An investment banker turned novelist, Sharma was born in Delhi and emigrated to the U.S. in 1979. His stories have been published in the New Yorker and in Atlantic Monthly, and have been included in The Best American Short Stories and O. Henry Prize Collections. His first novel, An Obedient Father, won the 2001 Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award.
He spoke of his gladness that the book was receiving attention because it highlighted the important and often overlooked role of care-givers.
“The book itself is good. I just wish someone else had written it. Writing it was like having to chew stones,” he said.
The award’s sponsors say it is intended to recognise “the best English-language fiction from around the world” that has been published in Britain, regardless of form, genre or the author’s nationality.
“Family Life is a masterful novel of distilled complexity, about catastrophe and survival; attachment and independence; the tension between selfishness and responsibility,” British author William Fiennes, the chair of the judges, said in a statement announcing the winner of the prize founded by the Folio Society, a publisher of deluxe classic books.
The other 2015 shortlisted titles were:
“10:04” by Ben Lerner (Granta)
“All My Puny Sorrows” by Miriam Toews (Faber)
“Dept. of Speculation” by Jenny Offill (Granta)
“Dust” by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor (Granta)
“How to Be Both” by Ali Smith (Hamish Hamilton)
“Nora Webster” by Colm Tóibín (Viking)
“Outline” by Rachel Cusk (Faber)
Editing by Ralph Boulton