The Last Brother: A Novel

The Last Brother: A Novel

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Overview

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781555975753
Publisher: Graywolf Press
Publication date: 02/01/2011
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 904,234
Product dimensions: 5.54(w) x 8.26(h) x 0.52(d)

About the Author

NATHACHA APPANAH, a French-Mauritian of Indian origin, was born in Mauritius and worked there as a journalist before moving to France in 1998. The Last Brother, her fourth novel, won the Prix de la FNAC 2007 and the Grand Prix des Lecteurs de L'Express 2008. GEOFFREY STRACHAN is the award-winning translator of Andreï Makine.

Read an Excerpt

I saw David again yesterday. I was lying in bed, my mind a blank, my body light, there was just a faint pressure be¬tween my eyes. I do not know why I turned my head to¬ward the door, since David had not made a sound, not a sound, not like the old days when he used to walk and run a bit lopsidedly and I was always amazed that his thin body, with those legs and arms as long and slender as the reeds that grow beside streams, his face lost amid the soft hair that floated like spindrift from waves, I was amazed that all this, this combination of small, gentle and inoffensive things, should make such a clatter on the ground as David walked along.

David was leaning against the door frame. He was tall, and this surprised me. He was wearing one of those linen shirts whose softness and lightness excite envy, even at a distance. He had adopted a nonchalant pose, his legs slightly crossed, his hands in his pockets. A kind of glow bathed one side of his hair and his curls gleamed. I sensed that he was happy to see me after all these years. He smiled at me.

It may have been at this moment that I realized I was dreaming. I do not know where it comes from, this sudden awareness, I wonder why the real world sometimes invades a dream. On this occasion I found the vague sensation most unwelcome and struggled to convince myself that David really was there, simply and patiently waiting for me to wake up. All right, I told myself, I’m going to tease him, say some¬thing to him like you’re showing off, you’re striking a pose, but I could not utter a sound. I made a superhuman effort, opened my jaws wide, trying and trying, but in vain, my throat dried up. It is incredible how real this felt, great gulps of air streaming in through my open mouth and parching everything inside. At that moment I sensed that I was on the brink of waking but I thought if I lay still the dream would last. So I stayed in bed, I closed my mouth, I went on looking toward the door but I could not quell the sadness that had arisen in my heart.

At the very moment when this grief swept over me, David came closer. With one supple movement he slipped his shoulder away from the door frame, his hands still in his pockets, and took three steps. I counted. Three steps. David was tall, strong, adult, handsome, so handsome. Then I really knew I was dreaming and could do nothing about it. The last time I had seen him he was ten years old. And yet here was my David in front of me. An incredible tenderness radiated from him, something indefinable that I had been aware of at precious moments in my life: when I lived in the north as a little boy and had my two brothers; and when I spent those few summer days with him in 1945.

Lying there in bed like that I felt a little ashamed. I was no figure in a dream. I had had sixty long years since that time with David and, flat on my back in bed, I could feel every day of them. Over all that period I had never dreamed about him. Even at first, when I used to think about him every day, miss¬ing him so much that I wept and wanted to die, he had never appeared to me in a dream. If only he had come earlier, when I was rather more like him, young and strong. I, too, could stand like that once, head held high, hands in pockets, back straight. I, too, could show off, strike a pose. By stretching my neck, and raising myself a little on my el¬bows, I could have made out his face more clearly, but I was afraid to move. I wanted the dream to last, to go on, I wanted David to draw near of his own accord. Two steps more, I reck¬oned, and he would be close enough to touch and see. I would finally be able to look him in the eye. I could spring up, give him a friendly jab, hug him, doing it all quickly before I woke, somehow contriving to take the dream by surprise. Would he still have that broken front tooth, the one he had scraped against the ground as I dropped him, when we were playing at airplanes? I used to hold him flat out, his hands in front of him. He laughed and shouted as I hurtled forward for several yards. He was so light. But I stumbled. Down on the ground, David went on laughing and I was the first to notice his bro¬ken smile, his lips all bloody, though he kept on laughing. He loved playing at airplanes, he wanted to do it again, he had no time for crying over himself. Otherwise, with all he had lived through up to the age of ten, I think he would have been weeping from dawn till dusk.

They say you have strange dreams when you are close to death. For a long time my mother used to dream that my fa¬ther appeared to her, dressed in his brown uniform, ready to go to work. Come with me, he would say, I need you. In her dream my mother refused point blank, she told me, with a trace of alarm in her voice, she who had never refused him anything much during his lifetime. The night my mother died in her sleep, could it be that she had finally had enough of saying no and followed my father into the darkness?

But David, for his part, said nothing to me, he remained there, patiently watching me, between shadow and light. The dust motes hovering there in the first rays reminded me strangely of sequins. In the end it was pleasant, a dream at once sad and delicious, there was a lilac-colored glow in the room and I told myself he could easily have carried me now. I have become a frail old man and if we were to play at air¬planes again and he accidentally let go of me, as I had let go of him more than sixty years before, my whole body would be broken.

Suddenly I had had enough of waiting, I reached out my hand to him and it was morning, my room empty, the light dazzling, David vanished, the dream gone, my arm out¬stretched, outside the bedclothes, numb with cold, and my face bathed in tears.

I called my son not long after having my breakfast. I asked him if he could drive me to Saint-Martin, he said of course, whenever you like, I’ll come at noon today. My son is his own boss, he has little time for anything apart from work, he is unmarried, has no children, rarely goes out, hardly rests at all. But for the past few years now he seems to have had all the time in the world for me. It is because I am old, the only family he has left and he is afraid.

At twelve o’clock sharp my son was there. I had been ready for a good hour before. When you grow old you are early for everything, you are fearful of missing things, and then you get fed up with waiting for people. I put on dark pants, a blue shirt, and a light jacket. As in the old days, I slipped a little beige fine-tooth comb and a carefully folded white handkerchief into the inside pocket of my jacket. I also took out the little red box and kept it in my hand. I thought with a smile that I looked rather like a man about to make a proposal of marriage. I would have liked to polish my shoes, but the mere thought of such an operation exhausts me. So I sat down and rubbed both sides of my shoes against the liv¬ing room carpet as best I could, which made a sound that lulled me a little. When I heard the purr of the engine at the gate I stood up, waiting for my boy and leaning on my walk¬ing stick, as if standing to attention.

It is a new car, all gray and shiny. Metallic gray, my son specifies proudly. He makes no comment on my clothes, helps me into the car, fastens the seat belt for me, adjust¬ing it so that it is not too tight, puts my stick on the backseat and every time our eyes meet he gives me a big smile that draws his cheeks toward his ears and makes creases around his eyes.

He talks about his work briefly. He is in information technology, but it is difficult to talk about computers to an old man like me who understands absolutely nothing about them. So then he talks about his staff, young people he trains, who leave him very quickly, because, my son says, that’s how it is for people who work in computers, it’s chang¬ing all the time. When I tell him we are going to the Saint-Martin cemetery he says, that’s fine, Papa. No problem. It is probably no surprise to him that I should go to the cemetery. 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.

My son puts on some classical music, checks that the win¬dows are fully closed, adjusts the temperature in the car to sixty-eight degrees, keeps within the speed limit, and every time he brakes a little abruptly he reaches out an arm to pro¬tect me. I would like to tell him not to be so afraid for me, afraid for himself.

At Saint-Martin we drive down a road of dirt and sand where great acacia trees have shed thousands of tiny husks. The car is jolting now and this wakes me up. I have known for many years that David is in this cemetery, along with those others who died from exhaustion, dysentery, ma¬laria, typhus, grief, madness. During the early years, when the memory of David never left me for a moment, I was too young to come here and face this. Later on, I would set my¬self dates for coming here—my birthday, the anniversary of his death, the New Year, Christmas, but I never came. It looks as if I lacked the courage to do so and, if the truth be told, I thought I would never manage it. And now, today, be¬cause I had dreamed about David, it seems to me easy, obvi¬ous, I am not afraid, I am not sad.

The cemetery is very well maintained. It is surrounded by a low wall of red brick of the type used for English houses. The graves topped by the Star of David are lined up in rows of ten, facing the electric blue sea, metallic blue, my son might say. With the trees all around them, these stars look as if they were waiting for the sky to come down to them. When David told me the star he wore around his neck had the same name as him, I was sure, at the age of nine, that he was pulling my leg. I was furious. Do you take me for an idiot? I retorted, raising my voice. But then what did I know about the Jews and the Star of David?

My son helps me get out, hands me my walking stick and I go forward, on my own. I locate David’s grave on the plan at the entrance. My son is back in the car. I know he is watching me but all the same I take the comb out of my pocket and tidy my thick, gray mane of hair, which has nei¬ther thinned nor become limp with age. I straighten up, fas¬ten the first two buttons of my jacket, pull down my shirt cuffs, and proceed. David is over to the east, he must be one of the first to be reached by the sun in the morning. I walk slowly, trying to make the anticipation last, as I had in the night, when I tried to make my dream last. I am reading the names on the graves, images jostle one another in my head, memories come back so strongly that I am aware of their weight on my chest. I see their colors in my eyes, feel the taste of them in my mouth and I have to slow down, inhale deeply, and swallow to calm them.

And suddenly, brutally, it takes my breath away. After sixty years, I thought I was ready, I thought I should be able to confront this. Oh, David! I so much wish I was mistaken! I so much wish it could have been different. I wish I had never had to see this.

David Stein 1935–1945

The grave is just like the others and with sadness I picture his little child’s body and his blond hair within this great tomb. He is forever ten years old. And there it is again, I am the one who has survived and I am at pains to know why. I have led a plain life, I have done nothing remarkable . . .

I kneel down, my bones crack, my body is riven with shooting pains and my awareness of my own inner frailty is almost a source of pleasure. At last, at last, it will be my turn soon. I wipe the dust and sand from the black granite with my handkerchief. When it is clean, well and truly gleam-ing, I place the little red box upon it that contains his Star of David. And now I do what I did in my dream: I reach out my hand to David, close my eyes, and remember.

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Last Brother 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 26 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.
presto on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Mauritius, 1945, and ten year old Raj, befriends David, a Jew of the same age, a refugee held in a prison on the island. Not understanding the Jews' plight, unaware that there is even a world war raging, Raj seeks to help David, and leads his friend on an abortive and ill fated escape mission.Raj narrates his story in retrospect, told from the point of view of a man now retired. He tells of the loss of of his two brothers when he was still very young, of his abusive father, and his submissive yet strong mother, but primarily of his friendship with David.It is a beautiful well written story of friendship, the trust and loyalty the two boys share is enchantingly related.
njmom3 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A beautifully written book. It was different from what I expected though. The description states that the book highlights a little known history of WWII. While that is part of the book, to me it not the main story. The main story for me is that of the main character Raj. It is told from his perspectives as he reflects on his childhood. A childhood with unspeakable horrors such as the loss of two siblings in an accident, abuse, and loneliness. However, a childhood also with the love of a mother and friendship however brief. A moving tale that pulls you into its environment completely.This book is translated from French as part of the Lanaan Translation Series. The series is funded through a grant from the Lanaan Foundation, and its goal is to translate to English books never before published in the English language.
tututhefirst on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This exquiste and poignant memoir comes as close to poetry as prose can be. Every sentence is eloquent in its simplicity, vibrant in its imagery, and laden with anguish. Nathacha Appanah tells us the story of 9 year old Raj, an native Mauritian child who grieves the loss of both his older and younger brothers, while enduring incredible physical and pyschological abuse from his drunken father. While delivering lunch to his father who worked as a prison guard, he discovers another boy his age - David-who lives at the prison.Appanah leads us on a journey of friendship, love and ultimate grief as the two boys try to escape from their impoverished world. She tells the story in Raj's voice, but from his perspective as a grown man 60 years later. We are given a look at a little known part of World War II history, and another piece of the Palestinian puzzle as we watch a group of European refugees who must remain incarcerated on the island of Mauritius awaiting their longed-for settlement in Palestine.This book touched me on so many levels: the story of the two boys, Raj's story of his young life, the elder Raj's memories of what was and what could have been, and the story of the refugees. The author gives us all of this in a small, 165 page gut-wrenching book of incredible beauty. It will definitely rank as one of my top reads of the year.
jewelknits on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book tells the story of Raj, the son of an alcoholic and abusive father, and his friendship with David, a Jewish boy who lives at the prison where Raj's father works. We read the sad story about how Raj became the Last Brother of three at the age of 9 or 10 (I didn't quite figure that one out, or maybe I didn't take note as well as I should have), and his family's trek from Mapou, where his father worked in the fields, to Beau-Bassin, where his father now works in a prison.Raj is a solitary boy, quite removed from current events (he doesn't know there's a war going on, he didn't know what "Jewish" meant), and this story is being told at a 60-year-remove by him as an old man of 70. He journeys to the prison to take lunch to his father and stays hidden in the brush beyond the gate to see what happens. What he sees and doesn't understand are a bunch of skeletal white people, seemingly unused to the sun, who seem afraid to move or to even grab at the plentiful fruit on the trees around them in the prison courtyard. Are these the dAngerous ones, rUnaways, rObbers, and bAd mEn his father tells him live at the prison? If so, why are there children with them?His attention is taken with one of the boys, and he imagines that the boy comes to the fence and sees him. Afterward, he makes an almost daily trek to the shrubs to see the prisoners come out for their daily break and to imagine the little boy on the other side of the fence as his friend.After a particularly brutal beating at the hands of his father, his father takes him to the prison hospital for treatment, stating the usual mantra of abusive parents, "He fell". The little boy on the other side of the fence, David, is also in the hospital for an illness. They become fast friends, and Raj learns that both of David's parents have died. He never really learns how, and suddenly, Raj is healed and taken away from the hospital without really being able to say goodbye.A sudden cyclone affords the opportunity for David to escape the prison fence, and the boys end up journeying through the forest on their way back to Mapou, where Raj believes that he can maybe find his older brother Anil alive, since his body was never discovered.I wish a review could convey the artistry of this story - the unfolding of an uneven friendship, the guilt an old man feels wishing he had really known more and understood what David must have gone through, the love of a son for his steadfast mother, and the hardscrabble existence Raj and his reduced family went through.I learned about yet another period of history that I had not been aware of before, and felt Raj's loneliness and isolation as a young child. The fact that he triumphs over his background and manages to live a solid, fulfilling, loved life is a testimony to the steel within the human spirit.This book loses nothing in the translation, and I highly recommend it as an absorbing read.QUOTES:All the men in the camp drank. I have no idea where or how they bought this drink because no one had enough to eat.I think that if I had been an ordinary boy with no history - by this I mean a boy who had not spent the first years of his life in a ramshackle hut, who had not lost both his brothers on the same day, a boy who had friends to play with and did not hide in holes dug in the bare earth or on the branches of trees, a boy who did not talk to himself for hours on end, a boy who, when he shut his eyes at night, saw something other than his little brother's body trapped beneath a rock - I would not have stayed there long, this bizarre prison would have bored me. But I was Raj and I liked dark corners and places where nothing stirred.It was for moments like this that there should be a word to tell what one becomes forever when one loses a brother, a son.
EdGoldberg on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Last Brother is a marvelously written book about a nine year old, Raj, in Mauritius during World War II. Innocent, he befriends David, a Jewish boy stuck in Beau-Bassin prison when the ship he was on was not allowed to dock in Israel because of the British Mandate. Raj lost his two brothers, one older, one younger, in a major storm, when they could not make it home before the torrential rains. They were literally both washed away. As the last brother, Raj wonders why he survived. He doesn't understand David's fate. He doesn't know that WW II is being fought. He just wants, needs David's friendship.The Last Brother is wonderfully written, It is a heart-wrenching story. Told by Raj when he is in his 70s, it is a story of friendship, sadness, regrets, wonder. It is short and sweet, in the most complimentary way.
BrokenTeepee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It seems there are still many horrors of World War II that are not taught and should not fade into history. This book tells one small piece of the Jewish desperation to flee Germany and yet still not find the sanctuary they sought. Told through the eyes of a sickly little boy on the island of Mauritius it is a story full of much melancholy and still a little joy.Normally a book I would avoid due to the "literary" label, the topic intrigued me. Part of my reviewing all these books is to not just read what I know I love but to also stretch my reading into genres I may not ordinarily read. Sometimes I find the book is not for me and other times I find magical little gems like this book.It is not an easy book to read because Raj does not live an easy childhood. His father is a mean drunk and beats him and his mother.Add to that a family tragedy that rips them to their core and its a wonder this little boy survives. He does not have much but he does have the all encompassing love of his mother.He manages to find the most unlikely of friends - a young Jewish boy being held in the prison where his father is a guard. Through a series of circumstances Raj and David become friends - the only friend Raj has. Their relationship brings Raj the only joy he has in his life.The book tells the tale of their very short friendship as a flashback. Raj is an adult looking back over his life. The words flow like a river - sometimes fast and easy and at other times slow and impeded by rocks. The book is a very worthwhile read of a very difficult subject. It truly pulls at the emotions.
michaelbartley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
a beautiful novel, sad story but still uplifting i really enjoyed this book
writestuff on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Last Brother takes the reader to a remote island off the coast of Africa where in 1940 British officials deported more than 1,500 Jews (who were attempting to flee to Palestine), identifying them as illegal immigrants. On Mauritius, these refugees spent the rest of the war in a detainment camp in Beau-Bassin. Many succumbed to tropical diseases and inadequate food. In all, 128 people died on Mauritius and were buried in the Jewish section of the St. Martin cemetery.The novel is narrated by Raj who is now seventy years old and facing his own mortality. He remembers when he was a nine year old boy in the summer of 1945, living in Beau-Bassin and grieving the tragic loss of his two brothers. Ignorant of the war, the pograms and the death camps, he has little understanding of the people who live in the prison where his father works as a guard. Then one day, after suffering a brutal battering from his abusive father, Raj finds himself in the hospital within the prison walls. There he meets David, a ten year old Jewish boy who is one of the detainees. The two become fast friends. But when Raj heals, he is sent home to his mother, leaving David behind. When a tropical storm strikes the island, fate offers Raj the opportunity to free his friend¿but, freedom comes at a cost.The Last Brother is a haunting novel which has been beautifully translated from the French by Geoffrey Strachan. This book demonstrates the redemptive value of stories, how telling a story can somehow bring healing to our broken hearts. Nathacha Appanah explores grief, loss, loneliness, domestic violence, and the loss of childhood innocence. Her language is evocative and lyrical, heartbreaking and joyous. When Raj¿s brothers are swept away in a mudslide, Raj and his mother carry the silent grief of loss within their hearts. It is this loss which informs Raj¿s life, draws him to David, and remains with him forever.Like me, my mother carried the deaths of Anil and Vinod within her, throughout her life, and, like me, she was never able to put this bereavement into words. You can say you are an orphan, or a widow or a widower, but when you have lost two sons on the same day, two beloved brothers on the same day, what are you? What word is there to say what you have become? Such a word would have helped us, we would have known precisely what we were suffering from when tears came inexplicably to our eyes and when, years later, all it took was a smell, a color, a taste in the mouth, to plunge us into sadness once more, such a word could have described us, excused us and everyone would have understood. - from The Last Brother, page 76 -Raj¿s story ultimately serves as a witness to the memory of those who lost their lives on Mauritius during a mostly ignored period in British history. Like the boy Raj, many people are ignorant of the thousands who were left on a remote island and more or less forgotten about for five years. Through the eyes of a child, the story somehow seems that much more horrific.The novel spans less than 200 pages, and yet when I turned the last page I found myself moved by its powerful images and elegantly wrought prose. The Last Brother is a heartbreaking book, but in the end it is a reminder not to close our eyes to history, but to learn from it. This is a novel which I will not soon forget.Highly recommended.
libsue on LibraryThing 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.
labfs39 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Nine-year-old Raj knows little of the world beyond his tiny dirt-poor village on the edge of a sugar plantation. Life revolves around his family: his brutal, abusive father; his mother who can cure with her herbs; and, most importantly, his two beloved brothers. When tragedy strikes the family, they move so that his father can take a position as a prison guard. Raj deals with his trauma by becoming increasingly withdrawn and takes to lying motionless in holes and muttering to himself. One day, as he is lying under a bush watching the mysterious prison courtyard below him where his father works, a boy wanders near and, hunched into his knees, begins to cry. The simple act of wordlessly sharing grief creates a bond between the two boys. When Raj and David both end up in the prison hospital, they become inseparable friends, and they find the joy of childhood amidst the chaotic adult world. When the Jewish internees revolt and force a standoff with their guards, Raj vows to save David, and the two run away, heading for Raj¿s old village. But with only the vaguest of ideas as to where his village is, the two wander in circles until it is too late, and tragedy strikes again.The book¿s plot is vaguely reminiscent of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas: a boy on each side of a fence becoming friends and coming-of-age in a violent and chaotic time. But there the similarities end. Raj is a beautiful character faced with tragedy after tragedy in his life, but resilient as only a child can be. His grave innocence is not only believable, but compelling. Based on the true story of a boatload of Jews fleeing the Holocaust, which ends up marooned on Mauritius, the book is a Holocaust story writ small, far from the Nazis and the war. I loved the story¿s gentle tone and matter-of-fact depiction of hard lives. By telling the story in flashbacks, the author is able to show the persistence of grief and love despite the passage of time and the continuation of life. I highly recommend this book for its story and its writing, but especially so that you, too, can meet brave and loving Raj.
pdplish on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What a wonderful book! Told entirely from the point of view of an old man remembering when he was 10 and a chance enounter with another 10 year old boy. He completly expresses the joy of a young child as well as the deep dorrow of profound loss. While this was not an uplifting story it is a story of brotherly love even for some one so not your brother. Very poignant.
suesbooks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Concise, well-written story of friendship between 9-year-old Mauritian and 10-year-old Jew imprisoned in Mauritius during World War II. The writing portrayed the feelings of Raj so well. I also found it interesting to learn this part of history that was new to me.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Way too much emotion, tiresome. Needed more story
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago