Ann's Reviews > The Last Brother

The Last Brother by Nathacha Appanah
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Mar 24, 11

Read from March 15 to 21, 2011

This was a wonderfully sad book, yet full of hope.

Many will enjoy this lushly beautiful child's-eye tale of resistance to injustice simply as a fable of two boys thrown together in friendship and solidarity against a savage adult world (in the form of the Nazis and Raj's father primarliy.) It also half-reveals an extraordinary episode from the Second World War, but through a lyrical mist that never clears away. Perhaps the one frustration I had was not quite knowing the details of the Jews being imprisoned on the island or what had happened to David's parents and how he had survived without them.


On the tropical island of Mauritius, under colonial rule, young Raj, his two brothers, and his cowed but loving mother, endure their father's violent rages. He takes out all the humiliation of a poor cane-cutter's life in attacks on his family. Looking back in sadness, Raj evokes their grim toil in a wildly gorgeous landscape (lavishly evoked) and, at home, "the stench of alcohol and tears".

When a flash-flood kills his brothers, the surviving family moves to a house in the woods near a the prison where his father finds work as a guard. Raj becomes a child of the woods, cultivating his "solitary self" and spying on the prison inmates.

Mysteriously, the jail houses a large group of Europeans from far across the seas. Raj befriends one, the frail, angelic David, close in age to him.

This "gift from heaven" holds out "the promise of a less lonely life". A freak cyclone leads to a prison break-out. The boys go on the run but tragically lose their way in the enchanted, accursed forest, its perils brought to life in dream-like scenes.

A lifetime later, Raj recalls their brief escape and tries to apprehend the big picture behind it. David's presence restored Raj and Raj's mother to life -- enabling them to laugh, play and feel again.


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