Patricia O'Sullivan's Reviews > The Last Brother

The Last Brother by Nathacha Appanah
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's review
Jan 21, 2012

really liked it

After a mudslide kills his two brothers, nine-year-old Raj and his parents leave the cane fields of Mauritius for the city of Beau-Bassin, and family settles into their new life, Raj going to school, his mother tending house, and his father with a new job as a prison guard. But when Raj begins to spy on his father at work to learn more about the man who regularly beats him and his mother, he meets a prisoner weeping by the fence, a young Jewish orphan named David. Raj and David become great friends, and one day, after a cyclone destroys the prison’s fence, David escapes and goes home with Raj where Raj’s mother welcomes David and helps to hide the boy from her husband. But Raj’s father suspects, so Raj and David escape to the wilderness where they endure test after test of their friendship and their survival.
Based on the real story of 1500 European Jews refused entry to Palestine in 1939 and interred in a prison in Mauritius until 1945, Appanah poignantly brings a forgotten bit of WWII history alive through the character of young David. The story is told from the perspective of Raj, now seventy, but still haunted with guilt and grief over the loss of David. Raj’s memories of his brothers’ loyalty, David’s sorrowful singing in Yiddish, his father’s rage, and his mother’s gentle touch in trying to heal Raj after one of his father’s beatings are written so expressively that the reader is bound to be drawn in just by the beauty of the writing. This is a very sad story, but its being told by Raj as an older man who’s had a good life after all, offers a glimmer of hope that people can survive even the worst of tragedies.
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