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


A gruelling but compelling read. Somehow a corrupt, petty paedophile becomes a character rounded enough to earn your sympathy. The characterisation is acutely percetive of the mechanisms of family dysfunction but the view of human nature is almost unremittingly grim.


DARK. Easy to read, a bit horrifying. Looking at life through the eyes of a pretty shitty dude.


Fascinating glimpse into Indian business culture and family culture. Also an unwavering look at child abuse and cultural response. At times brutal and hard to continue with, but mesmerizing.

Becky Finley

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


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.


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.

Nils Ragnar

Indisk grått familieportrett om korrupt og incestuøs tjenestemann. Hever seg ikke over det gjennomsnittlige.


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.

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.

Shaheen Ashraf-Ahmed

Sometimes the writing is so powerful, so perfect, that you get a glimpse of the author's talent. Other times the story meanders. Ultimately, the overarching narrative does not feel successful but you will be haunted by the characters. Not for the faint of heart, it is hard to read this book, but also hard to look away as the characters destroy themselves and each other.


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


Ram Karan, a corrupt official in the Delhi Education Department, is a sad, bumbling, character tortured by a terrible secret. When the country is plunged into confusion following Rajiv Gandhi's murder, he finds himself trapped in a series of deadly political betrayals with little or no protection. I didn't enjoy this book as much as I had expected to unfortunately. Because of being so busy at the end of last week, and away all weekend with a bunch of people from work - I read it slower than I might have done usually, and honestly didn't really like having these characters in my head for several days. Ram Karan the reader understands right from the beginning is a sleazy man, corrupt, and rather pathetic, but it is only later, that we are hit by the revelation that he raped his daughter Anita when she was 12, and is only just prevented from abusing his granddaughter by Anita walking in on him. Some of the more disturbing parts of the novel are narrated by Anita rather than Ram, but I must say I did find bits of it hard to read. This is certainly a well written, ambitious novel, with some big themes, and in the end there was a sort of satisfying conclusion, but I didn't like any of the characters at all. Even Anita who I felt I should feel more empathy for, left me cold.

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.




A troubling story that centers around sexual abuse. Set in India, the story revolves around a civil servant, his daughter, and granddaughter as they cope with living together. Very good writing.

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