Family Life by Akhil Sharma wins the 2016 International DUBLIN Literary Award

American author Akhil Sharma has won the 2016 International DUBLIN Literary Award for his novel Family Life. The Award is organised and sponsored by Dublin City Council and at €100,000 is the world’s largest prize for a single novel published in English. Uniquely, the Award receives its nominations from public libraries in cities around the globe and recognises both writers and translators. The winner was announced at a ceremony in Dublin's Mansion House today.

Akhil Sharma was born in Delhi, India, and moved with his family to the United States when he was eight. He is the author of An Obedient Father, winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award and a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. He lives in New York City and is an assistant professor of English at Rutgers University, Newark.

The winning novel was chosen from a total of 160 titles, nominated by libraries in 118 cities in 43 countries.  It was first published in the USA by W.W. Norton and in the UK by Faber & Faber. The shortlist of ten novels, as chosen by an international panel of judges, included novels from five continents. Akhil Sharma is the third American author to win the prize in its 21 year history.

 “I am delighted that Dublin City Council is now the full owner and sponsor of the International DUBLIN Literary Award”, said Ardmhéara / Lord Mayor and Patron, Críona Ní Dhálaigh. “Initiatives such as this Award have consolidated Dublin’s position as a centre of literary excellence on the world stage. Dublin’s rich literary and cultural life makes Dublin a great destination for tourists, for students, and for overseas businesses, and indeed adds to the quality of life for all of us."

Family Life tells the story of eight-year-old Ajay, whose family move from Delhi to America in 1978. America to the Mishras is everything they could have imagined and more: Life is extraordinary until tragedy strikes, leaving one brother severely brain-damaged and the other lost and virtually orphaned in a strange land. Ajay, the family’s younger son, prays to a God he envisions as Superman, longing to find his place amid the ruins of his family’s new life.

Heart-wrenching and darkly funny, Family Life is a universal story of a boy torn between duty and his own survival.


Commenting on his win, Akhil Sharma said: “To be acknowledged by people I respect is a strange thing. I can't say I fooled them. I feel abashed by this honor.”


“Family Life tells a story of hopes dashed and ambition thwarted against a backdrop of emigration and displacement”, said Margaret Hayes, Dublin City Librarian. “Akhil Sharma, our 21st winner, joins a unique creative collective. Their stories delve deep into personal and family dynamics and bring us memorable narrators, singular voices that stay in our imaginations, the mark of all great storytellers.”


Akhil Sharma received a cheque for €100,000. The prize money was presented to the winner by Owen Keegan, Chief Executive of the Award’s founders and sponsors, Dublin City Council. Dublin City has a long and rich literary heritage as well as a thriving living literary scene, and was designated a UNESCO City of Literature in 2010.


The 2016 judging panel, which includes Irish author, Carlo Gébler, commented: “Suffering and the struggle to ameliorate suffering are not unknown in fiction but Family Life pulls off the extraordinary feat of showing them in their correct alignment.  Closing the book, having known this mix of light and dark, you are left with the sense that while reading you were actually at the core of human experience and what it is to be alive.  This is the highest form of achievement in literature.  Few manage it.  This novel does.  Triumphantly.  Luminously.  Movingly. ” (Full citation below.)


Family Life was nominated by India International Centre Library, New Delhi and by Jacksonville Public Library, USA, who commented:


“Sharma’s plain style, its gaps and fissures and mighty sense of lack, is both proof of the inability of words to render grief and a demonstration that they can do exactly that.”


“Beautifully hypnotic, Sharma’s novel revolves around the ups and downs of a young boy, Ajay, who is practically orphaned when tragedy strikes his family. Alternating between gut wrenching emotion and a child’s selfish, dark humor, Ajay learns to navigate his family’s new normal, sharing his observations with a brutal honesty.”


The 2016 shortlist included four novels in translation and authors from America (Dave Eggers, Jenny Offill, Marilynne Robinson and Akhil Sharma); Brazil (Michel Laub); France  and Rwanda (Scholastique Mukasonga); Germany (Jenny Erpenbeck); Ireland (Mary Costello); Jamaica (Marlon James); Spain (Javier Cercas).


All the shortlisted books, as well as copies of the 160 novels nominated for the 2016 Award, are available to borrow from Dublin Public libraries.




For further information:

For interview requests: Joanna Petty/Ruth Doyle, Wilson Hartnell, InternationalDublinLiteraryAward


Notes for editors


The International DUBLIN Literary Award is presented annually to promote excellence in world literature. It is open to novels written in any language and by authors of any nationality, provided the work has been published in English or in English translation in the specified time period as outlined in the rules and conditions for the year. Nominations are submitted by library systems in major cities throughout the world.


The Award is sponsored by Dublin City Council and managed by Dublin City Public Libraries.


The other shortlisted novels for the 2016 Award were Outlaws by Javier Cercas, translated from Spanish by Anne McLean; Academy Street by Mary Costello; Your Fathers, Where Are They? And The Prophets, Do They Live Forever? by Dave Eggers; The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck, translated from German by Susan Bernofsky; A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James; Diary of the Fall by Michel Laub, translated from Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa; Our Lady of the Nile by Scholagtique Mukasonga, translated from French by Melanie Mauthner; Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill and Lila by Marilynne Robinson.


Recent winners of the award include:


Harvest by Jim Crace (2015), The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vásquez (2014), City of Bohane by Kevin Barry (2013), Even the Dogs by Jon McGregor (2012), Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann (2011), The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker (2010)


Previous American winners of the award:


Edward P. Jones (2005) The Known World; Michael Thomas (2009) Man Gone Down.


See  for full details of the International DUBLIN Literary Award.


Citation, author details, 2016 judging panel and previous winners below.


JUDGES’ CITATION – 2016 Winner


Family Life by Akhil Sharma


A novel is a collection of facts that just happen to have been made up.  As the reader reads they stream in to the reader's imagination and form a virtual equivalent of what was in the writer's head.  The efficacy of this transaction is in direct ratio to the veracity of the author's facts.   The better they are, the sharper the world that takes shape in the reader's psyche.  As readers we know this.  Mediocre texts generate fuzzy chimeras, while more authoritative narratives so convince we can talk about the characters in the story, for example, just as we talk about our friends because they are as real as our friends.  But beyond these is an even higher kind of novel that does more than engage.  This kind occupies you so absolutely that while you read and for a while after you finish, the specificities of your own life don't exist because they have been supplanted by the specificities of the author's invented world.  This kind of usurpation is the greatest pleasure a reader can know and Family Life by Akhil Sharma is one of those rare novels that does this.


The narrative of Family Life is thus: the Mishra's - mother, father and two sons, Birju and his younger brother Ajay (who tells the story and is the novel’s pivot) emigrate from India to the US in 1978.  For Ajay's older brother, Birju, the New World is initially a triumph until an accident in a swimming pool causes catastrophic brain damage, after which he needs twenty-four care.  Initially he receives this in medical settings, but then he goes home and is cared for by his parents and his brother.  The story of Birju's care is the kernel of the novel, it's living heart.


As a reading experience Family Life desolates and infuriates.  It prompts questions too.  Why should the suffering rich get better care than the suffering rest?  Isn't all human suffering equal?  However, alongside its subtle interrogation of inequality (this isn't a febrile work of social criticism) the novel also celebrates the Mishra family's achievement.  For all their imperfections, and they have plenty, (there are no paragons in this novel), somehow they cope and somehow they meet Birju’s needs, which is a kind of triumph and, for a reader, it is profoundly consoling that they manage this.


Suffering and the struggle to ameliorate suffering are not unknown in fiction but Family Life pulls off the extraordinary feat of showing them in their correct alignment.  Closing the book, having known this mix of light and dark, you are left with the sense that while reading you were actually at the core of human experience and what it is to be alive.  This is the highest form of achievement in literature.  Few manage it.  This novel does.  Triumphantly.  Luminously.  Movingly.  All hail Family Life by Akhil Sharma.



2016 Judging Panel


Meaghan Delahunt was born in Melbourne and lives in Edinburgh.  She is the author of novels In the Blue House, The Red Book and To the Island.  Her latest book is Greta Garbo's Feet & Other Stories (2015). Awards for her work include the Flamingo/HQ Australian Short Story Prize (1997), a regional Commonwealth Prize, a Saltire Book Award and a nomination for the Orange Prize.  She teaches Creative Writing part-time at the University of Stirling and is an Arts & Culture editor for


Carlo Gébler was born in Dublin in 1954.  He lives outside Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. He is the author of several novels including A Good Day for A Dog and The Dead Eight (shortlisted for the Kerry Irish Fiction Prize), the short story collection W.9. & Other Lives, works of non-fiction including the narrative history, The Siege of Derry and the memoir The Projectionist, The Story of Ernest Gébler.  He has also written novels for children as well as plays for radio and the stage, including 10 Rounds, which was short-listed for the Ewart-Biggs Prize.  He is a member of Aosdána.


Ian Sansom is a novelist, critic and academic. He is the author of 13 works of fiction and non-fiction, including The Truth About Babies, Ring Road and the Mobile Library series of novels. His most recent book is Death in Devon (HarperCollins, 2015), book no.3 in his 44-book County Guides series of novels. He writes for The Guardian, The London Review of Books, The New Statesman and The Spectator. He is currently a Professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies at the University of Warwick.


Iglika Vassileva is the acclaimed translator of James Joyce’s Ulysses, of almost all novels by Virginia Woolf, the prose of Walt Whitman, Nabokov and many other distinguished writers. Her translations of Ulysses, The Waves and To the Lighthouse have been met with high acclaim by literary critics and reading public alike. She is well known for her penchant for Irish literature. Among her translation successes here are authors like John Banville, John McGahern, Mary Lavin and many more.The recipient of numerous prizes, Iglika Vassileva was awarded four times the Prize of the Union of Bulgarian Translators, twice the Prize of the Ministry of Culture, twice the “Hristo G. Danov” National Prize for Literary Translation and the Sofia City Prize for Achievements in the field of Literature. She teaches literary translation at Sofia University.


Juan Pablo Villalobos was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, in 1973. He's the author of Down the Rabbit Hole (shortlisted for The Guardian First Book Award), Quesadillas and I'll Sell You a Dog (to be published in English in 2016). His novels have been translated into fifteen languages. He writes for several publications, including Granta, Letras Libres, Gatopardo and English Pen's Blog, and translates Brazilian literature into Spanish. He lived in Barcelona for several years, then moved to Brazil, and is now back in Spain. He is married with two Mexican-Brazilian-Catalan children.


Hon. Eugene R. Sullivan, non-voting chair of the judging panel, is a former Chief Judge of a US Court of Appeals and brings a wealth of experience from sixteen years on the bench. His first novel, The Majority Rules, was published in 2005.  His second novel of his political thriller trilogy; The Report to the Judiciary, was published in 2008. When not recalled to the Federal Bench, Judge Sullivan is a partner a Washington, law firm.