An Obedient Father

ISBN: 0156012030
ISBN 13: 9780156012034
By: Akhil Sharma

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About this book

Sins of the FatherAkhil Sharma's An Obedient Father is a first novel of surprising depth and complexity; rich and disturbing, its twists and revelations continually challenge the reader's preconceptions. Ram Karan, the protagonist and primary narrator, is an inspector for the corrupt Delhi school system. For all intents and purposes, he is a bribe-collector, although not a particularly good one. "My panic in negotiations was so apparent," he explains, "that even people who were eager to bribe me became resentful." Anxious and overweight, recently widowed, he is driven by fear rather than political convictions. The Congress Party sustains him, but when Rajiv Gandhi is assassinated, Karan finds himself caught precariously between the party and the rising Bharatiya Janata Party. If he switches parties, and the BJP loses the election, he will be attacked by Congress and tried on corruption charges. If he doesn't switch parties, he will lose his job.This decision is complicated by the drama of his home life. Karan shares his apartment with his daughter Anita, whose husband has just died, and their relationship is far from civil. "My mind was adept at reducing its presence," he admits, "when my body did something shameful." In the past, his body has often been beyond his control. When Anita was a girl, he raped her repeatedly and now 20 years later he begins to find the presence of her 12-year-old daughter Asha extremely provocative.Anita notices this attraction and brings her memories into the open, using them to demand money and other concessions from her father. The bribes Karan pays Anita mount as he, now working for the BJP, begins selling the very land out from under schools, and filters the money back to the party for election funding. He believes in nothing but his own preservation and even seeks to bribe both parties to protect himself.An Obedient Father chronicles these personal and political dramas and their intersections. While both storylines are engrossing, neither is particularly encouraging or uplifting. It is the subtlety of Sharma's prose that makes the novel so compelling and so readable. For example, here is Karan describing his own appearance: "I wore a blue shirt that stretched so tight across my stomach that the spaces between the buttons were puckered open like small hungry mouths." In a book that concerns itself with unnatural, unhealthy appetites, even inanimate objects speak of dissolution.Ram Karan is a monstrous character, in both his public and private life, yet he is so carefully depicted that his motivations and emotions are perfectly understood. If he cannot be sympathetic, he is very nearly so. His narrative dominates the novel, imbuing it with his anxiety and helplessness; his guilt is palpable, as is his desire to change or at least control his behavior. Part of the reason he is unable to realize a change, or draw nearer to happiness, is the lack of forgiveness that Anita shows him. In the sections she narrates, she reveals herself as a somewhat sinister, scarred figure whose only desire is to free herself by tormenting her father. The depth of her hatred and the extent of her revenge are chilling and utterly believable.An Obedient Father may be too dark for some readers; however, its power is undeniable, and its story fascinating. At its close, the remaining characters are left with the effects of terrible causes, and the hope that the future may bring, with its knowledge of the past, less destructive actions. —Peter RockPeter Rock is the author of the novels Carnival Wolves and This Is the Place. Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, he now lives in Philadelphia.

Reader's Thoughts


Ugh. I am still sick to my stomach from reading HALF of this book. I just want to say ONE THING. In the way that I am against gratuitious sex and violence on stage as it is jarring---I feel that same way about written descriptions of molestation. There is something good I am sure in this book, but when i reached the point where i disengaged and felt my soul and psyche being damaged i closed the book and put it back on the shelf.


Akhil Sharma is an author currently living in NJ.This is a story about a corrupt officer.The story begins with the set up of his life with his widowed daughter and his little grand daughter.


The write-up on the back of the edition that I read describes Sharma's protagonist as a bit of a Dostoevskyian anti-hero. This makes sense: Sharma gives us a corrupt, alcoholic, child-molesting bureaucrat as the vehicle through which most of the story is told. And—call me old fashioned—this makes the story just that much harder to get through; any time you have a protagonist so wretched, so miserable, so abhorrent that you are viscerally—even physically—angered by them... Well, good luck finishing; you're unlikely to enjoy the story.So where does that leave us? Is this worth reading? Yes, perhaps.The catch is that there is a fine line between what's gratuitous and what is simply graphic. Fortunately, Sharma gets all (or at least most) of this out of the way in the first 50 pages or so. But you may find that you need a strong stomach to get through those first 3 or so chapters. That said, if it weren't for chapter 2 {†}, I might have abandoned it.At the heart of this story is a tale of the consequences that follow corruption and moral ambiguity. It is gripping and powerful at moments but kind of shambling and listless at others.---† = Sadly (and confusingly) one of only two where the first-person narrator is not Ram; and that final dangling chapter in the third-person... how does that fit in?

Dawn McCarthy

Despite this book's horrific subject manner, there was a bit of genius in the writing. While the reader is inside the head of the main character, who, to put it nicely, is a vile man, the reader both loathes and somehow can feel some pity for him, once all of his sins catch up with him. While reading this, you know everything he has done is reprehensible but, because you are reading it from his perspective, you almost feel sorry for him when he gets what he pretty much deserves. Getting the reader to feel this way is pretty remarkable. The author was able to keep this balance because he allowed us inside Ram's daughter's head as well (and allowing us to get out of Ram's head made it a bit easier to read). It is interesting to read the political and cultural piece to this as well. Sadly, it was interesting in a psychological aspect because it shows the reader why some families stay together, despite abuse this despicable and the result it can have on keeping the victim a victim and how that plays out with the next generation. The end tied it all together as well. It was a difficult book to read and phantom. If it weren't so well written, I am not sure if I could have finished. It is not for the weak of heart.


If you had a hard time reading Lolita you might want to take this one off your 'to read' list. The primary theme is the impact of rampant corruption on the life of one family in Delhi, India. I thought I wouldn't be able to finish the book, its written from the point of view of a man that rapes his own daughter. Tough topic but great writing, at one the point the grime that quickly accumulates on your skin in the Delhi slum is compared to the inside of a smokers' lung. Surprised by the somewhat hopeful ending.


This book is a wolf in sheep's clothing. It's written with a light hearted, conversational tone that belies the horrors underneath. On one level, the protagonist is a corrupt bureaucrat, given to betting on the wrong horse in political races and using other people's money to extricate himself from sticky situations. Despite the fact this part of the story covers some pretty major political events and a real time of turmoil in India's history, it's not this side of the book that really shocks. It's that our protagonist is also a rapist, who repeatedly subjected his young daughter to ever worsening advances. This revelation occurs once this daughter is forced to move in with him after the loss of her husband, and he finds himself attracted to his grand daughter. The "logic" behind his behaviour and the webs of deception woven around it are truly horrific, and all written in the bumbling, can't get anything right tone of the failed bureaucrat. It's horrible, sickening, yet someone numbed by the style. A real rollercoaster ride, and the kind that makes you feel ill after. Not the happy excited silly good kind of ill either.


A book that literally kept me tossing and turning at night. It is so deeply sad, and, surprisingly, not solely due to the subject matter of incest: 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.


can't put it down - so good


Don't know that I'll ever get back to this one.

Sheila Callahan

This is a dark, dark tale, but an important one. I've never read anything so riveting on the disturbing topic of incest. For that reason I'm marking it as a "must read" for everyone. An Obedient Father is not an easy book, but putting it aside is akin to keeping one's head in the sand about the pervasiveness and everyday nature of sexual abuse.


This is a difficult book to read. The main character is pretty detestable and so many incidents in the stpry make you want to scream out loud. But it is effective in highighting life - particularly that of a young poor girl in New Delhi - and the strength of human spirit.

Josh Bearman

This book is a very strange combination of beautiful prose describing horrible things. Not for the squeamish or overly sensitive. No intense violence, but tons of psychological and familial baggage.


an amazing book but one of the toughest books to read due to the subject matter.


Undecided whether I like it or not. The revenge part of this book is very unsettling almost more depraved than the rape itself.

Becky Finley

This book is really well written, but so disturbing. It is a difficult book to deal with.

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