Writer Akhil Sharma has an excerpt from his forthcoming novel Family Life entitled “A Mistake” featured in the latest edition of The New Yorker. It is filled with the kind of engrossing details that first-generation immigrants from any nation will recognize, from the wonderment at all the conveniences to confusion at all the seeming sameness. Endless adjustments, to school, to work, to home, and to the comforts of a post-industrial nation both delight and frustrate the narrator as he details his first few years as an Indian in America. An ordinary red shag carpet in a one-bedroom apartment in Queens, NY becomes a thing of luxury, conjuring feelings of “stepping onto a painting.” The stories in Family Life are based in part on Sharma’s real-life experiences and loved ones, and here he reflects upon his deliberate choice to dwell in fiction instead of memoir:
I think one can be more honest in fiction than in a memoir. For me, memoir, because it claims to be factually true, restricts my ability to use dialogue, since I remember only a few things that were said. It also hampers my ability to collapse time, because collapsing time takes events out of context. And I wanted to focus on only certain aspects of the experience; in a memoir, I would have felt obligated to include things, such as boredom, that don’t interest me artistically but were an important part of the experience.