Nearly 13 years in the writing, Akhil Sharma’s second novel is closely based on the events of the author’s youth, when he moved as a young boy from India to New York with his parents and older brother. Aged eight when the book begins, Ajay is delighted with his new home in Queens, which seems miraculously different from the two cement rooms the family occupied in Delhi. But life is altered dramatically when Birju, his brother, has an accident in a swimming pool that leaves him brain-damaged. Birju had been the family’s great hope; now he must be spoon-fed lentils and banana mush while he rolls his eyes and dribbles.
This marks the beginning of the family’s disintegration. Ajay’s father falls into alcoholism, while the difficulties of looking after Birju bring out an unpleasant tension between Ajay and his mother. Ajay knows that he must achieve the high grades his brother now cannot, but he’s also ashamed that he should