Indian-American author Akhil Sharma has won the UK's Folio Prize for his novel Family Life.
Sharma, 43, was selected from a shortlist of eight authors for the 40,000-pounds prize for his semi-autobiographical novel, which begins in the late 1970s when India was in the grip of Emergency.
Like countless others in India, Ajay and Birju are taken to America by their parents for a better life. In New York, their flat is tiny and the students at their school racist. But Ajay and Birju forge ahead, pushed on by their ambitious parents till tragedy strikes. An accident leaves Birju brain-damaged, and the world around Ajay collapses. His father begins to drink, his mother takes to prayer and it is Ajay who must now bear all the guilty weight of their love.
Sharma spoke of his gladness that the book was receiving attention because it highlighted the importance and often overlooked role of care-givers.
"The book itself is good. I just wish someone else had written it. Writing it was like having to chew stones," he said.
Chair of the judges, William Fiennes, described the novel as "deceptively simple in its writing and emotionally rich, incredibly moving and funny in a surprising way. It touches on big, big themes to do with catastrophe and survival and family life, sibling attachment."
An investment banker turned novelist, Sharma was born in Delhi and emigrated to the US in 1979. His novel An Obedient Father had won him the 2001 PEN/Hemingway Award. He has also published stories in, among others, the New Yorker, the Atlantic Monthly and the Best American Short Stories anthology. It took New York-based Sharma 13 years to write and publish the book.
The Folio Prize is open to all works of fiction written in English and published in the UK.
- With inputs from agencies.