Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Review: The Last Brother

Author: Nathacha Appanah
Publisher/Format: Graywolf Press, 2011, softcover 164 pages
Subject: European refugees held on Mauritius  during WW II
Setting: Marititius
Genre: Fictional memoir
Source: ARC from publisher

Graywolf Press has done it again.  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 Maritian 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 know 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 long-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.

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 Andrei Makine.

The Tablet Magazine has a wonderful interview with the author.  
My thanks to Graywolf for making this ARC available.


  1. Having not gotten oven my issues with memoirs..and for some reason, not a fan of WWII books, I may skip this one.
    But great review, especially since I had to Google Mauritius and actually learned something, since I admit that I had never heard of the place.

  2. This book sounds wonderful. My heart goes out to Raj, no child should face so much pain and so young. I'm glad he becomes friends with David but fear neither boys life will be easy. I'm also interested in this lesser known part of WW II and want to learn what happens to these people.

    I am reading a book published by Graywolf Press now, Picking Bones from the Ash my Marie Mockett and it, too, is beautifully written and a great story.

    Thank you for a wonderful review!
    ~ Amy


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