An Obedient Father by Akhil Sharma

This was a tough book to read at times, not because of the writing, which is generally excellent, but because of the confronting subject matter. It is one of the most devastating yet emotional books I’ve ever read.An Pbedient father

Personally, I am not comfortable with any depictions of child sexual abuse, and this subject is at the heart of this novel. A hard book to read, I needed strength to face some of the pages.

Ram Karan is a deeply flawed man living in Delhi at the time of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. He is a ‘money man’ for corrupt political figures, collecting and distributing bribery money that greases the wheels of what passes for democracy in India. He is a widower, with a heart condition, and his daughter Anita, who is a widow, and her young daughter, Asha, live with him, as they cannot afford to live elsewhere.

This is a household full of tension and distrust, of shame and anger and revenge, where family relationships are barely held together by a fragile thread. Because, Ram Karan, raped and molested Anita repeatedly until he was caught. Anita, understandably, cannot forget or forgive what was done to her in her childhood, and her fear that her father may commit similar crimes with his grand-daughter Asha is constant and palpable. There are other family members with small roles in the story, none of them particularly likeable, and a complete rogue’s gallery of corrupt politicians and officials.

Some of the chapters in the novel are narrated from the perspective of RamKaran and are full of self-loathing, shame and promises to reform, and yet occasionally revert to periods of self-justification, victim-hood and some doubtful conviction that he is a reformed and trustworthy man. Other chapters, told from Anita’s perspective, contain tension, distrust, anger and revenge and, ultimately, a destructive path where reason and control are overtaken by irrationality.

None of the characters are particularly appealing – even Anita, the primary victim of the tale, elicited no sympathy from me after a certain point due to her psychological brinksmanship and her resentment toward her own daughter.

This book literally kept me tossing and turning at night. The author has captured the culture, language, family relationships, prejudices and superstitions, along with the nature of local politics, impeccably. In short, this book was much darker and more brutal than I was expecting, but it deals with its difficult but important themes in a compelling way, and Sharma’s unornamental, straightforward prose makes it easier to swallow as a whole than it might be otherwise.

It is so deeply sad and surprisingly not solely due to the subject matter of child molestation: the exposure of the selfish and careless nature of all of the characters is the most devastating part. Despite this, the author is able to convey the characters in such a way as to deserve the reader’s pity, which is an amazing feat considering the horrible thoughts and actions committed.

A very complicated novel that is worth the hours lying awake.

My Rating : 4/5

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