The Last Brother

The Last Brother

3.7 13
by Nathacha Appanah

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In The Last Brother by Nathacha Appanah, 1944 is coming to a close and 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. When a brutal beating lands Raj in the hospital of the prison camp where his father is a guard, he meets a

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In The Last Brother by Nathacha Appanah, 1944 is coming to a close and 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. When a brutal beating lands Raj in the hospital of the prison camp where his father is a guard, he meets a mysterious boy his own age. David is a refugee, one of a group of Jewish exiles whose harrowing journey took them from Nazi occupied Europe to Palestine, where they were refused entry and sent on to indefinite detainment in Mauritius.

A massive storm on the island leads to a breach of security at the camp, and David escapes, with Raj's help. After a few days spent hiding from Raj's cruel father, the two young boys flee into the forest. Danger, hunger, and malaria turn what at first seems like an adventure to Raj into an increasingly desperate mission.

This unforgettable and deeply moving novel sheds light on a fascinating and unexplored corner of World War II history, and establishes Nathacha Appanah as a significant international voice.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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 personal—that 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.
The Independent
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.
Library Journal
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
Kirkus Reviews

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.

Dalia Sofer
…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

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Product Details

Graywolf Press
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5.54(w) x 8.26(h) x 0.52(d)

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Last Brother 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
EdNY More than 1 year ago
I've been in quite a reading slump lately. Every book that I've read has been just so-so. That is until I picked up The Last Brother by Nathacha Appanah. It's the story of Raj, a nine year old local boy whose life is filled with the violence of an alcoholic abusive father. Raj and his family have been destroyed by a horrible event that turned a family of five into three. Father, mother, and Raj move when the father finds work at a prison, Beau-Bassin. A prison that Raj is told is full of "dAngerous ones, the rUnaways, the rObbers, and the bAd mEn." Raj travels each day to the prison to bring his father lunch, but endlessly curious about the inmates finds a hiding place and observes. What does he see? David, a young boy around the same age walking towards the barbed wire of Beau-Bassin. "What I saw first was his hair, that magnificent mop of it, which floated around his head but which was certainly his and his alone, in a way that nothing has ever belonged to me, those curls hiding his brow and his way of advancing stiffly, not limping, for all the world as if he were made of wood and iron and his machinery had not been oiled for quite some while." David sits and observes the internees as Raj lies in the dirt observing David. "Suddenly David's curls began to shake, his shoulders too, and he buried his face between his knees, which he had brought up against his chest as he sat down. Then I heard him crying, 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." The two form a friendship that is doomed from the start, but one that will haunt Raj for sixty years filling him with guilt for what was done, and what should have been done. The Last Brother takes place during 1944-1945 on Mauritius, an island off the South African Coast. An island seemingly far removed from the horror and violence of World War II, but even this remote area cannot escape . Beau-Bassin was a camp for Jewish refugees from East Europe (Poland in particular) who had tried to reach Palestine in the early 1940s to escape the Nazi persecution. They travelled down the west coast of Africa, passed the Cape of Good Hope, and entered the Indian Ocean. They were taken by the British at this point, brought to Mauritius, and made to stay there until the end of the war. 128 of them died and were buried in Mauritius. Nathach Appanah has done a beautiful job of taking this bit of history and allowing us to view it through the eyes of these young boys. The writing is lyrical and beautifully translated. This is a short novel that will hopefully mark the beginning of a very long writing career.
MSaff More than 1 year ago
I have just completed the reading of "The Last Brother", by Nathacha Appanah. This story takes place near the end of 1944 and involves a young boy of the age of nine years. His name is Raj and he lives in Mauritius. This location is an island in the Indian Ocean. As the story unfolds, Raj is retelling his story of his youth on the island, as he is preparing to visit the grave of a long lost friend, David, and he has not visited this grave before. Raj is now seventy years old, and tells his story, I believe for his own benefit, as well as for his son. He has lost his two brothers and is now moving from his shack of a home with his father and mother to a new location. This story has many ups and downs in the emotional range and I found myself taken in and seeing, breathing and living the story. David, is a nine year old boy who Raj meets as a result of Raj's discovery of a prison near his new home. Raj's father, a miserable man, in my estimation, is a guard at this prison. What Raj discovers is that this prison is filled with Jews, something that Raj has never heard of, and why is this little boy David in this prison. Remember, that this story takes place at the end of 1944, during World War II. Raj doesn't know anything about the war. Appanah is a wonderful writer. If this story is not a true story, then the author has definitely a way with words in order to bring a fictional story to life. The emotional roller coaster is beyond compare. I recommend this story to everyone.
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I enjoyed reading this book. It was a very heart wrenching story. I only wish it were a little longer.
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Lauriefp More than 1 year ago
This is the best best book I have read so far this year. It is beautifully written and pulls on all heart strings from beginning to end. Highly recommended!
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I haven't read this book yet but it sounds too similar to ' The Boy in the Stripped Pajamas ' . I'll come back and review it once I've read the book.