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

Becky

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.

Kelly

can't put it down - so good

Amanda

I bought 'An Obedient Father' in a book sale because it is set in India, but it is no 'God of Small things' and left me feeling grubby. It tells the story of a corrupt Indian civil servant with a penchant for incest and sexual abuse.I would not recommend it.

Faye

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.

Julie Whelan

This is a dark, intense look at guilt, how families deal with immoral behavior, as well as the current graft and Machiavellian politics of Indian. The inner psychological dimensions of the story are mirrored in the political landscape where BJP and Congress are equally corrupt and just out for power and money. In many ways it is reminiscent of Crime and Punishment as follow the main character who is a corrupt political worker who sexually abused one of his daughters. This daughter, Anita, is now a widow and she and her daughter Asha must live with the father in order to survive. The book is powerful and at times difficult to read because of its painful content. The ending, when Asha escapes the dysfunctional family and is swept away to the United States seems artificial and a contrived way to end a book that is otherwise totally believable.

Nils Ragnar

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

Eliana

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.

Marykickel

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.

Jim

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.

Neil

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.

Rob

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?

Jan

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.

Sadie

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

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.

Bausertron

I read this one after hearing Dave Sedaris recommend it at one of his readings. Wasn't at ALL Dave Sedaris-esque, but enjoyable still, if not a little disturbing and upsetting (but in a good way).

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