In Appanah's impressive novel, two young boys living in Mauritius during WWII secretly become friends. Eight-year-old Raj and his two brothers live on a sugar plantation where their parents eke out a marginal living. But Raj's brothers are swept away in a torrent, and the family moves to the heart of the island, where his abusive father finds work as a prison guard, overseeing European and Jewish inmates exiled from Palestine by the British to Mauritius, where they await the war's end. Here Raj meets David, a detainee close to his age, and feels an immediate kinship with him despite Raj's father's warnings that the prison holds dangerous men. When Raj's father beats him so severely that he's admitted to the prison infirmary, his friendship with David deepens; the love Raj can no longer give his brothers he offers to David. Weather once again intervenes in Raj's life when a cyclone hits the island, and he and David attempt to outrun their fates together. Appanah's descriptions are meticulous, and the heartbreakingly endearing Raj makes for an unforgettable protagonist. (Feb.)
Copperfield's Books MARIE DU VAURE
In a lucid and elegiac voice, Appanah inscribes onto the tablets of history a little known episode of the Jewish exodus during WWII. A young boy's life is forever changed when he decides he must save the single friend he has in the wake of losing his own two brothers. It is a mournful yet vividly affecting story, set on a tropical island ruled by stark contrasts, of how one tries to live with the burden of loss and the acceptance of responsibility.
City Lights Booksellers PAUL YAMAZAKI
The Last Brother is a wonder of concision and power. Appanah has created a memorable character that demonstrates the resilience of an individual in the face of the barbarism that we sometimes call history. Appanah's ability to create such a nuanced character and story allows us to step into a history that has remained obscure to many of us. I am a delightfully astonished reader.
Elliott Bay Book Company RICK SIMONSON
Nathacha Appanah's The Last Brother is one of the most beautiful, contained portrayals of devastating loss and profound longing that I've ever read. An older man gives voice and remembrance to his younger self, bringing to vivid life a childhood marked by brutality, separation, and death, but also cunning, connection, and survival. With the lightest of touches, the author movingly conveys a child discovering his own mysteries, then navigating those of a baffling, larger world.
Beautifully poised and very lyrical.
Reading The Last Brother is like entering into a Grimms' fairy tale where the darkness of the forest is met only by the greater darkness of human cruelty. Nathacha Appanah has beautifully rendered this tangled world through the innocent perspective of a boy who apprehends and misapprehends eventsÑhistorical and personalthat unfold around him. An important story, lyrical, grave, and gorgeously told.
Le Monde (Paris)
A disturbing and extraordinarily sensitive story around the tragic odyssey of Jewish refugees.
In Geoffrey Strachan's sumptuous translation, we follow a fairy-tale flight from persecutions, small and large, that bonds two boys from different ends of a suffering earth.
In this lyrical and quietly moving work, an old man recounts an event from childhood that has marked him irrevocably. In December 1940, a ship carrying 1500 Jews was turned away from Palestine and sailed on to Mauritius, an island off Africa's southeast coast. Nine-year-old Raj's father is a guard at the Beau-Bassin Prison, where the Jews were housed. The lonely Raj, whose two brothers had died in a terrible storm, ends up at the prison infirmary after his father beats him yet again. There, he forms an astonishing bond with blond-haired David, who seems, in that stale phrase revivified here, like Raj's better self. The description of their friendship is idyllic, but readers know from the start that something terrible happened to David, and the suspense can be unbearable as the story slowly unfolds. In a crucial scene, Raj intervenes to keep David from helping a fellow Jew being beaten (in essence, keeping David for himself), setting the stage for the tragedy to come. VERDICT Don't look for splashy writing in this first novel by Appanah, a Mauritian-born journalist of Indian descent who has long lived in France. Instead, she offers a lovely little gem of a meditation on how humans can love and, inexplicably, hate.—Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal
A short, deceptively rich novel, translated from the French, that illuminates an obscure footnote in World War II history.
The narrator of the prize-winning fourth novel by Appanah(Blue Bay Palace,2009, etc.) is a 70-year-old man from her native Mauritius, an island in the Indian Ocean, obsessed with an incident that changed his life when he was nine years old. With a perspective that more often reflects a young boy's innocence than the old man's experience, Raj describes the bond he developed with a Jewish boy named David, orphaned in the Holocaust, exiled to the island's prison after exiles were denied entry into Palestine as illegal aliens. Raj's impoverished family had lost his two brothers to a fatal storm, and his brutal father works as a guard at the prison. In the hospital (where Raj lands after a particularly brutal beating from his father) and on the grounds, the two boys bond, sharing a similarity of name (each is "king" in his culture, one of the parallels that is a little too pat) and experience (both have suffered deep losses and feel essentially alone). The reader learns from the start that Raj has survived and that David has died, a tragedy that elicits complicated feelings of complicity and guilt in Raj. "What I want to do is tellpreciselywhat happened, it is the least I can do for David, I want to tell what matters, I want finally to put him at the center of this story," he says. Yet Raj can only bear witness, offer his own testimony, with some elements of David's story buried with him. What he tells of David is Raj's rite of passage: "This feeling, like a rising and falling tide of nausea, was the loss of childhood and the awareness that nothing, nothing from now on, would protect me from the terrible world of men."
In poetic, occasionally rapturous prose, the novel extends beyond the Holocaust in its attempt to encompass the human condition.
…this beautiful, concise…novel recounts the heartfelt friendship between two boys: David, a Czech orphan, and Raj, an Indian-Mauritian grieving for the two brothers he lost in a flash flood…Strachan's translation is faithful and limpid, preserving in large part the rhythm of the French. For American readers, whose familiarity with the literature of Mauritius is unlikely to stretch beyond the work of the 2008 Nobel Prize winner J. M. G. Le Clézio, Appanah's is a beautiful new voice, one that, like David's, makes "a kind of music." If the song it sings is sad, well, it's all the more lifelike for that.
The New York Times