Title: The Last Brother
Author: Nathacha Appanah
Release Date: February 1, 2011
Publisher: Graywolf Press
Genre: Literary Fiction, Multicultural Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Raj is a boy living on the island of Mauritius with his two brothers, his mother, and his abusive father. After tragedy strikes, the family moves across the island, where Raj’s father finds work as a prison guard. Raj follows his father to the prison one day and makes eye contact with a young Jewish boy about his age, named David. This chance meeting will have repercussions that will affect Raj for the rest of his life.
Books can do so much for us. They can broaden our worldview, educate us, and let us know about little pieces of history that we otherwise would never know. The Last Brother beautifully accomplishes all of these things, in a remarkably slim package through elegant and graceful prose. Going into this book, I had no idea that Jewish refugees were held against their will in Mauritius during World War II. I found the information contained within fascinating, but I was really captivated by Appanah’s beautiful prose and the heartbreaking story in The Last Brother.
The Last Brother is actually a work in translation, so I have to give translator Geoffrey Strachan a lot of credit when it comes to the beauty of the prose. It’s clear and precise, spare yet unbelievably gorgeous. The lushness of the prose fits the majesty of the island, at the same time its simple underlying nature perfectly captures the essence of Raj’s childhood.
Raj is an endearing protagonist, and the reader will ache for him as the story progresses. He wants to find love and a sense of belonging; his mother’s unconditional love for him cannot make up for his father’s abuse and hatred. The book jumps between the young Raj, and the old man he becomes, and it is so interesting to see the elder Raj desperately try to understand what happened when he was a boy, give it some meaning so it isn’t just senseless loss. It’s amazingly done and keeps the reader very emotionally invested in the story.
The Last Brother also manages to keep readers hooked from beginning to end. This might seem natural since the book is so short, but it can be a difficult thing to do, especially in a book with so much heartbreak as this. Indeed, this review may make it seem like this book is heavy and difficult to read, but it isn’t, which is remarkable. Every time things seem to be getting to be too much, the author switches to something light-hearted, something a little easier on the soul to remind the reader (and Raj) of the small pleasures of life.
This was really a remarkable book, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s a beautiful treatise on the need for love and the scars inflicted by loss. It’s a moving story, one that fans of literary and multicultural fiction will enjoy. Nathacha Appanah is a promising voice in fiction, and I hope we’ll be seeing more from her soon.