The myriad culture clashes of modern India — holy Ganges water in a Superman thermos, Sanskrit prayers and lip synching contests — are served up with a light touch in Akhil Sharma’s funny, subtle first novel, An Obedient Father. Fat, slovenly, lachrymose Ram Karan, an unlikely hero to be sure, is a corrupt politician who extorts bribes for India’s flagging Congress party. He’s also a self-indulgent sensualist who raped his teenage daughter.
But the bumbling bagman, with his naive candor and his lonely heart, proves surprisingly hard to hate, especially when compared with his political successors, fanatic Hindu fundamentalists seething with ancient grudges. How Ram’s outraged daughter rescues him from his public enemies — but then exacts her own private vengeance — concludes this moving, persuasive tragicomedy.