Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Last Brother

By Nathacha Appanah

From the back of the book:

As 1944 comes to a close, nine-year-old Raj is unaware of the war devastating the rest of the world. He lives in Mauritius, a remote island in the Indian Ocean, where survival is a daily struggle for his family. After a brutal beating lands Raj in the hospital of a prison camp, he meets David, a boy his own age. David is a refuge, one of a group of Jewish exiles now indefinitely detained in Mauritius. When a massive storm on the island brings chaos and confusion to the camp, Raj is determined to help David escape.

Just my opinion:

I was very impressed with this book, which was originally written in French and recently translated to English. It’s the story of a young boy who lives a terribly desperate life. His family is poor and barely has enough food to eat. They live on an island that about once a year suffers from devastating weather storms that destroy what little they have and they must start over. His father is a depressed shell of a man who takes his frustrations out on his wife and son almost on a daily basis by brutally beating them with no provocation.

Raj, the main character, is the only surviving son after his two brothers die in one of the storms that swept the island. He meets another boy his own age when he is hospitalized following one of his father’s severe attacks. Lucky to be alive, he spends weeks in the hospital, located at the prison where David, his new friend, is held as a refuge.

David is ill with malaria and is very frail. He is unable to do many of the things boys his age do. After Raj’s release, another storm hits the island and he helps David escape during the pandemonium.

The Last Brother is a sad story that gets inside you and makes you appreciate what you have in your own life. Although this is a fast read, you may want to put the book down every now and then to contemplate what you are reading or just to take a break from the horrible circumstances that are this boy’s life.

Told by Raj 60 years after the story takes place, this beautifully written story is one you don’t want to pass up. This is definitely bound to be a bestseller and could potentially be nominated for several awards.

Some favorite passages from the book:

They say you have strange dreams when you are close to death.

Most of my friends are dead now, we are folk who have had tough, hardworking lives and inevitably, we die early, worn out and, if anything, eager to get it all over with.

I knew it only too well, this sobbing that racks you, that makes you softly murmur oh, oh, as if someone were slowly, very slowly, plunging a knife into your heart. I knew it only too well, this sobbing that suddenly surges up from nowhere, just as you are sitting peacefully on a lush, green lawn with the warm sun on your shoulders.

We very rarely notice changes within ourselves at the time, we perceive them later, in the light of events and our reactions to them.

The words collided with one another in my throat, came tumbling out of my mouth in a chaotic fashion, just as in a dream, when one is desperately trying to speak.

On every trip I made, whether on the island or abroad, I have never been able to restrain myself, I have always bought different erasers of different colors and sizes. … It has been my particular way of frustrating time’s attrition, postponing death and sustaining the illusion that one can always erase everything and make a fresh start.

When is think of the hopes I had, I am bound to wonder whether I was not simply a stupid child.

Regrets serve no purpose … you need a lot of luck to fulfill your dreams.

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