Indian author Akhil Sharma wins Folio Prize with book that was 'like chewing stones'

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LONDON — Indian-American author Akhil Sharma won the 40,000 pound ($60,000) Folio Prize for fiction Monday with "Family Life," the autobiographical story of an immigrant family floundering in America that took him almost 13 years to write.

Sharma said he still wasn't sure whether it had been worth it.

"I'm glad the book exists," he said. "I just wish I hadn't been the guy who wrote it."

Writer William Fiennes, who led the judging panel, called the book "deceptively simple ... emotionally rich, incredibly moving" and surprisingly funny.

But Sharma said writing it had been "like chewing stones."

"I started writing this book when I was 30," the 43-year-old said. "I really feel like I shattered my youth."

The book tells the story of Ajay Mishra who, like the author, moves from Delhi to the United States as a child in the late 1970s. When Ajay's brother has a life-changing accident, it shatters his family's new life.

Sharma, whose own family suffered a similar tragedy, said he hoped the book would give comfort to readers who act as family caregivers.

But he said his first emotion on hearing he had won was "enormous shame," because compared to his brother, "I have received too much luck."

Bookmaker Ladbrokes had ranked Sharma the 8-1 outsider among eight finalists who included Britain's Ali Smith, Canada's Miriam Toews and American authors Ben Lerner and Jenny Offill.

The Folio Prize aims to rival the Booker Prize as the English-speaking world's most prestigious literary award. It is open to any English-language work of fiction published in Britain, and this year's list took in writers from four continents, including Kenya's Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor, Ireland's Colm Toibin and Canada-born British author Rachel Cusk.

Fiennes said several books, including Sharma's, dealt with "the movement of people across borders ... one of the really potent themes of the moment."

"It's an immigrant story, but one that doesn't have any kind of agenda," he said. "Its agenda is human feeling."


Online: http://www.thefolioprize.com

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