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My Brother

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Jamaica Kincaid's brother Devon Drew died of AIDS on January 19, 1996, at the age of thirty-three. Kincaid's incantatory, poetic, and often shockingly frank recounting of her brother's life and death is also a story of her family on the island of Antigua, a constellation centered on the powerful, sometimes threatening figure of the writer's mother. My Brother is an unblinking record of a life that ended too early, and it speaks volumes about the difficult truths at the heart of all families.

My Brother is a 1997 National Book Award Finalist for Nonfiction.

208 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1997

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About the author

Jamaica Kincaid

97 books1,299 followers
Jamaica Kincaid is an Antiguan-American novelist, essayist, gardener, and gardening writer. She was born in St. John's, Antigua (part of the twin-island nation of Antigua and Barbuda). She lives in North Bennington, Vermont (in the United States), during the summers, and is Professor of African and African American Studies in Residence at Harvard University during the academic year.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 175 reviews
Profile Image for Raul.
282 reviews202 followers
January 1, 2023
Looking back at my reading these past few months, a lot of the books I've read have dealt with death, illness, or grief, or all three in some way. Upon reflection, the simple reason for this, even though a few probably didn't get much thought when selected, is that I'm growing older and these realities are becoming more certain and there's some fear that I need to make sense of and books have been known to help with that.

So to this book which is my sixth by Kincaid and it has everything I love about her: pure honesty, the beauty of prose, a cadence accomplished by repetition, and a level of awareness of both self and that around self. It's still a tough read. Jamaica Kincaid's younger brother, Devon, died of AIDS and this book is a result of contemplating the grief and pain that loss brought.

Kincaid was already established and acclaimed when she had published this and before her brother died. As a child she had been a brilliant student but had been forced to abandon her studies and immigrate to the U.S.A. and work as an au-pair to help earn money for her family back in Antigua. Her ascension to the echelons of contemporary literature, where she's rightfully placed, resembles the fantastical and miraculous, and given the circumstances she must have endured, it is. So when she has to return home because of her brother's illness the gulf in their situations (Kincaid middle-class, American, accomplished, comfortable with a nice family of her own; Devon poor, fatally ill, suffering and dying, unaccomplished and unknown, without a family of his own and much to show for himself) confronts the circumstances she might have faced had she remained home and all the complicated emotions it brings, as well as the reality of her dying brother.

The complexity of human relationships, of situation, of life in general. Nothing is ever simple and Kincaid herself, nor her dead brother, nor her family, nor anyone for that matter, is simple. To turn all that grief and difficulty into something this beautiful is testament to her gift.

Profile Image for Gretchen Rubin.
Author 42 books88.7k followers
July 2, 2020
I sense a Jamaica Kincaid kick coming on. A short, compelling memoir of her brother and her family, and a meditation on how and why their lives turned out so differently.
Profile Image for Johanna Lundin.
289 reviews181 followers
January 21, 2020
Boken handlar om Kincaids bror, hur han är döende och sedan dör. Men det är också en skildring av en familj, en dysfunktionell relation till det som är din grund och samtidigt det som drar dig ner i avgrunden. Stundvis repetitiv i sitt språk/beskrivning vilket gjorde att jag fick kämpa med läsningen sista tredjedelen.
Profile Image for Julia.
20 reviews3 followers
July 30, 2021
I really struggled between 3 and 4 stars for this one! The first half was enjoyable and engaging, but the second half was so long, plodding and redundant that I ended up marking it down. Overall I’m happy I read it, but I don’t think Kincaid’s style is quite my cup of tea!
Profile Image for Eric.
68 reviews1 follower
September 20, 2008
(Sigh), compared to the fiction I've read by her, I think this book got a lot of praise because she was established already with two good books, and maybe, because its something readers could feel sympathetic towards. For me, I was into it at first, and then thought that even its 198 pages in big type dragged on too long. I still don't know her brother because she doesn't, she doesn't care--me neither, and I don't know the mother because she only chooses to speak about her when she pleases. I feel like this book was an issue that interested her and so she wrote about it because this type of non-fiction sells. For me, I would of liked her to focus on some of the thoughts she places at the very beginning and end of the piece which tend to be rich and not so journalese; the "this is only something a mind like mine would think about" part of it, for those who read it. And I'm not knocking clean prose, I like that this book wasn't jazzed or glittered up, but it lacked substance at certain areas too. She was just stating the facts at times, I wanted more, but maybe there wasn't much to give to begin with.
Profile Image for Marc Manley.
72 reviews62 followers
November 14, 2010
To me, Jamaica Kincaid is a contrived. Her whole identity is duplicious and incoherent. I also find her to be a cultural elitist that attempts to pass herself off as the victim of Antigua in general, and her mother in specific. In the end, her brother's death is not about him, but is about her. In fact, the entire book is one long prattle about herself mumbling, "me, me, me". I fail to see her attraction, at least in this volume, as her writing style is far from engaging; more akin to nails on a chalk board. The sadest part, is I am left feeling little for her, at the death of her brother, or even for her mother, who has just lost her youngest child. I would certainly remove this from a "must read" list.
Profile Image for Sara Solomando.
136 reviews71 followers
August 6, 2022
Se ha puesto de moda eso de “la familia elegida” y no es para menos cuando se conoce a algunos progenitores. Nuestras madres y nuestros padres (algunos, muchos, ausentes) están haciendo de oro a varias promociones de psicólogos.
No podemos elegir a nuestros padres y hermanos, pero podemos resistirnos a su influjo. Huir de él incluso. De esa fuga va, un poquito, “Mi hermano”. Un pequeño gran relato donde Jamaica Kincaid cuenta cómo fueron los últimos años de vida del más pequeño de sus hermanos, enfermo de VIH. Pero esa es solamente la excusa para hablar de las profundas huellas que deja el des-amor materno: “¡A su manera mi madre quiere a sus hijos, tengo que decirlo! Y eso es absolutamente cierto, nos quiere a su manera. Es su manera. Nunca se le ha ocurrido pensar que quizá su forma de querernos no sea lo mejor para nosotros. Nunca se le ha ocurrido pensar que quizá su forma de querernos la haya beneficiado más a ella que a nosotros. Quizá toda forma de amor es egoísta”.
“Mi hermano” es también un viaje por la pobreza, un recordatorio de cómo repercute en la vida de la gente y por qué no hay que romantizarla. Habla de sexualidad y homofobia (“Había muerto sin llegar a comprender o saber o permitir que el mundo en el que vivía supiera quién era; quién era él en realidad -no una seña elemental de identidad, sino toda la complejidad que abarcaba su ser-, era algo que no había sido capaz de expresar plenamente; su temor ante la posibilidad de que se rieran de él, su miedo enfrentarse con el desprecio de la gente a la que mejor conocía lo abrumaban y no era capaz de vivir exponiendo abiertamente todo aquello que conformaba su ser”) , pero sobre todo habla de esas distancias que se van, nos vamos, imponiendo con los nuestros, para que dejen de dolernos, para que no nos hieran. Y de cómo a veces quienes deberían conocernos mejor, son aquellos que menos nos intuyen.
Y por supuesto es una reflexión profunda sobre la muerte, cómo vivimos mientras llega (La muerte nunca muere (…) sucede todos los días, aunque siempre que uno ve personas de duelo se comportan como si fuera una novedad, como si ese acontecimiento, morir, -que un ser amado muera-, no hubiera sucedido nunca antes; resulta algo tan inesperado, tan injusto, que es algo único para cada cual.”) y el poder curativo de la palabra: “cuando yo era joven, más joven de lo que soy ahora, empecé a escribir acerca de mi propia vida y me di cuenta de que ese acto me salvaba
Profile Image for Tricia.
40 reviews
July 7, 2020
I don’t believe that this is her best work. Kincaid writes about the life and death of her brother who was diagnosed with AIDS at a time when medication for this disease on an island with scarce resources, is non-existent. However, this book delves more into the complex relationships Kincaid has with her dying brother, her mother, and even with herself. But unfortunately it’s written like a slow-rolling boulder. Picking up stray particles along the way. There is also a great tug-of-war happening within herself on her feelings for her brother: she states more than once that she doesn’t love him, but puts herself into debt buying and shipping him medicine to keep him alive. Sadly, I feel this was a lost opportunity to write about her brother’s life (however seemingly wasted) and the cultural disadvantages that led to his contracting AIDS and the people who were willing to help him live as long as possible.
Profile Image for Chris.
479 reviews4 followers
October 22, 2011
Really honest memoir about her family and specifically her brother (closeted) dying of AIDS in the mid-'90s. It's rare to read about someone saying, repeatedly, that they hate their mother and don't really love their brother who is dying, but she makes it work. Not everyone has to be lovable to have a memoir written about them.
Profile Image for Valentina Salvatierra.
227 reviews24 followers
June 19, 2019
A brutally sad, unflinching look at having someone close to you die from AIDS. Also very personal: Kincaid's brother, although close in terms of blood relation, wasn't especially close to her as an individual, because of their differing adult life trajectories. Kincaid uses this contrast very effectively, this gap between her brother's materially impoverished existence in Antigua and her own privileged first-world life in Vancouver. She uses it to question the nature of family, what makes you "love" your family members simply because they happen to share DNA and ancestry, and what that "love" can mean in the trying times of imminent death. She also uses her brother's illness to portray her relationship to his and her mother, her shortcomings and strengths. Although so personal, Kincaid's account also grasps for something universal, insofar as death is one of the few truly universal human experiences and here she is coming to grips with this particular instance of it.
Profile Image for Jamie.
321 reviews239 followers
August 20, 2012
My first foray into Kincaid's wide body of work, and I certainly wasn't disappointed. Basically analyzes her, let's say, "complicated" relation with her family - her cruel mother, her feuding brothers, and in particular, her wild and horn-dog-y brother who, during the span covered by the memoir, is diagnosed with AIDS, undergoes a respite from death's door with the help of anti-retrovirals, and then dies from the disease's complications.

A number of cultural factors lend the book some greater weight than I think Kincaid wants to fully interrogate - her family is in Antigua, where, at the time of the memoir's "narrative," HIV and AIDS are little understood illnesses, and much maligned because of their association with MSM populations. This likewise becomes a conflict for Kincaid's brother, who wishes to disavow both the homophobic stigma attached to the disease and to avoid acknowledging his diagnosis in any regard. At the end of the memoir, after her brother's death, Kincaid discovers that, in fact, her brother did have sex with men and had kept this closeted from basically everyone who knew him in his life. Kincaid doesn't necessarily consider this secrecy or this identity deeply, and I think does her memoir a disservice by treating the revelation almost as a kind of "whodunnit" moment of disclosure. Her privileged position of knowing is underscored, though quietly, from the very beginning -- and of course, is unavoidable in the life writing genre, I suppose.

At other times, Kincaid is beautifully humane in considering her brother's suffering, and in recognizing the disease, despite her obvious distaste for her Antiguan family. Particularly wonderful was her attention to the permeability of the body, her distinction between the precarious but confident lives most people lead and the kind of living death that certain populations outside of the cultural or political center must reside in, emblematized here by the corporeal limbo of the patient with AIDS. I'd like to say things are different contemporarily, and certainly there have been leaps and bounds in the fight against the virus, but is there any other illness so misunderstood and so stigmatized even in supposedly "liberal" countries like the U.S.? I think a lot of people get off on believing that we've developed a kind of sophistication in relation to AIDS that "those people" in the Caribbean or in Africa can hardly fathom, but perhaps one thing this memoir serves to remind us of is that even in privileged positions or "educated" communities, there's a great deal of blindness, hypocrisy, and terror regarding the epidemic.

Oh me oh my! That was a depressing end to the review. Sorry, I've been reading a ton of books with HIV at their center this summer, and as a gay man born after the rise of the epidemic, this is a terror that has never not been peripheral in my life. So, yeah, pour a drink and cheer up, y'all?
Profile Image for Andrew.
297 reviews20 followers
April 21, 2019
This was kind of a weird introduction to Jamaica Kincaid. She was on my mental list of authors to try, so when I saw this book at a church book sale, I picked it up. It's very rambly; by the end of a sentence you often have no idea what or whom Kincaid was talking about at the beginning and have to backtrack. She also has no issue speaking ill of the dead, and of the living. It's a bitterly frank memoir about her brother who was dying (and eventually died) of AIDS, but mostly the book is about Kincaid's feelings toward her mother. I'd estimate the book is about 75% invective. I was expecting the book to be a little more about her brother (inferring from the title), but, as I suppose a grief memoir should be, it was primarily about the author herself and her anger at her family (or as she puts it, "the people I am from," as she reserves the word "family" for her then husband and her children).

The two moments that moved me the most were these: 1) when Kincaid meets a woman from home (Antigua) at a book signing and, for the first time, feels able to talk about her brother's death; and 2) her description of her brother's dead body.

I found it interesting that she rarely referred to other people by their names, instead referring to them by their relationship to her. She has three brothers, and goes to lengths not to refer to them by name. She is not hiding their names from us, as she does name them each at least once in the book, but she does prefer to call them "my brother who ___" most of the time. Kincaid often passes possession of her mother to her brothers, referring to her mother as "his mother," explaining that she was not on speaking terms with her mother at the time. She also has complex workarounds for referring to her birth father and her step-father.

At the time she wrote this book, she was married to Allen Shawn, son of Kincaid's mentor William Shawn (and, more interestingly to me, brother of Wallace Shawn who played Vizzini in The Princess Bride and Grand Nagus Zek on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine). She refers, at separate times, to her husband's father and to the man who reads what she writes. She names the latter "William Shawn," but does not reveal that the former and the latter are the same person.
Profile Image for Filipa Calado.
28 reviews1 follower
October 27, 2018
Devastating... written in a breathless style that makes you think Kincaid stayed up all night then submitted the first draft that came out. The prose comes across as raw, unedited, yet masterfully arranged.

A memoir that recounts the writer grappling with her brother's death, touching on the AIDS crisis, family, and gay themes.
Profile Image for radioheadfanatic.
96 reviews7 followers
March 1, 2023
memorable and very honest!!

“I noticed that the lemon tree my sick brother had planted was no longer there and I asked about it, and she said quite casually, Oh, we cut it down to make room for the addition. And this made me look at my feet immediately, involuntarily; it pained me to hear her say this, it pained me the way she said it, I felt ashamed. That lemon tree would have been one of the things left of his life. Nothing came from him; not work, not children, not love for someone else.”

Profile Image for Aalekh.
48 reviews1 follower
March 14, 2023
“for much of my life had been spent away from people who meant much to me and who were among the first people to make sense to me; I once did not see my mother for twenty years, even though I thought of her first thing in the morning and last thing at night”

“that dying had a closed-door quality to it, a falling-off-the-horizon quality to it, the end, an end, nothing … and yet, what to do? For it is the end and yet so many things linger.”

“Why is it so new, why is this worn-out thing, death, someone dying, so new, so new?”
Profile Image for Macy.
132 reviews1 follower
July 14, 2021
i don't know if this book would've hit so hard if i wasn't already having lots of thoughts about the nature of death and dying, but goddamn did it hit. it's vivid, poignant, and so breathtakingly honest. an uncomfortable read, but i think it's going to stay with me for a long time.
Profile Image for alessandra falca.
569 reviews23 followers
January 31, 2020
Questo modo di comportarsi, questo modo di sentire così isterico, così triste, quando muore qualcuno, non mi piace affatto e vorrei tanto evitarlo. Non è come se non fosse mai accaduto prima, non è come se la gente non morisse mai e ogni persona che rimane fosse la prima persona al mondo che chi se ne va si lascia dietro. Che dire allora? Come mai non ci si abitua? La gente nasce e non può esistere per sempre, e se non può esistere per sempre, allora deve andarsene, ma è tanto difficile, tanto difficile per chi rimane; è tanto difficile vedere qualcuno andarsene, è come se non fosse mai accaduto prima, ed è tanto difficile che non può accadere a nessun altro, nessuno all’infuori di te può sopravvivere a questo genere di perdita, vedere qualcuno che se ne va, vedere che ti lascia dietro di sé; tu non vuoi andare con chi se ne va, vuoi solo che non se ne vada”

Quello che si capisce è che Jamaica Kincaid scrive la verità. Chiara, precisa, emotiva. Il libro è tristissimo ma è bellissimo.
Da leggere assolutamente.
Profile Image for Nikhil.
333 reviews31 followers
August 25, 2017

Nigh unreadable. The text is a stream-of-consciousness rambling of Jamaica Kincaid trying to understand her relationships with her mother and half-siblings and trying to address her failings (is it grief? love? who knows, she certainly doesn't) surrounding the death of her youngest brother. The text is narrated in a circular style, and the author writes almost in free association. While this could work in a text, here, it doesn't.

The rambling, disassociated nature of the text eliminates any plot and makes it difficult to understand the basic timeline of events in the author's life. The text also sits at an awkward halfway point between personal memoir, discussion of AIDS symptoms, and assessment of her brother's life; it needed to do more in at least one of these directions. For example, the text is replete with Kincaid calling her mother cruel, hateful, spiteful, etc., yet she provides few if any examples of her mother's cruelty and spends little time on her memories of her mother and how that changed after her brother's birth. The reader is only provided snippets of half-memories, snippets that, frankly, seem insufficient to justify the degree of animosity she and all her half-siblings feel towards their mother (i mean, seriously, what did this woman do?). It would not have been difficult for Kincaid, had she so wished, to flesh out more of her relationship as an adolescent with her mother (which is what engendered so many of these negative feelings) rather than just telling the reader repeatedly how awful her mother is.

I will likely try some of Kincaid's novels, given how much I enjoyed her essay A Small Place. Perhaps I will find them more to my liking.
Profile Image for Michael Strode.
41 reviews24 followers
April 24, 2011
I was curious when she finished the first section of the text and her brother had finally died what she could possibly conceive to round out the remainder of the pages. I thought to myself "what more is there to tell". This title was engaging, insightful, and reflective upon the interactions that occur between parents, children, and siblings in the course of coming of age into our vast adulthood.

This might have just as easily been about my relationship with either of my brothers Tony or Rahsaan or even my sister Danielle for at one point we thought we knew one another and then suddenly we grew and we found we didn't know each other that well at all anymore. Still we are family and we do have this thing we are searching through inside of ourselves called "love" appropriately. It is a word difficult to define and death causes us to face and figure out the workings of its pieces.

Death. I have wondered to myself how I would encounter and move my way around it. For as much as I could not understand Jamaica's feelings towards her family, she used a tactic that I imagine I might also (and have) use when tackling an issue as piercing as death. Writing through it. The largest part of the text is a reflective first person dialogue around the subject of death and her reactions to it as she discovers more each day the brother whom she never really knew.
Profile Image for Anton.
105 reviews
December 15, 2015
Forgive the cliche, but this book is brutally honest. Resolutely so. It's an extended lyric essay, as much poetry as prose, its repetitions and associative leaps capturing the complexly layered structure of human consciousness: the inescapable presence of the past, how it shapes each moment we experience, the way certain seemingly insignificant thoughts--and traumas--continue to haunt our "now" like musical motifs. In this book the reader, quite simply, inhabits the author's mind as she recalls the death of her brother from AIDS and candidly excavates her and her family's traumatized psyches.
Profile Image for Jo.
579 reviews14 followers
December 4, 2017
I really enjoyed Jamaica Kincaid’s writing and the exploration of her feelings about her brother - current and past - as he is now dying of AIDS. The book is almost a book of two halves and I enjoyed the first half immensely. The second half resonates with grief and the complex mix of feelings which go with losing someone who is a blood connection but with whom you have nothing in common. It is very evocative of the feelings of grief but I did find it repetitive and it dragged compared with the first half.
Profile Image for Andrea Chambers.
16 reviews
April 8, 2018
I understand and appreciate JK compelling read. It was absent of emotions and told from a point of observation which made me a bit anxious at times. Though the book is tilted ‘My Brother’, it could have just as well been titled ‘Trees and Such’ and it still would have ruffled just as many feathers. But that is the point — it was her story to tell - as grievous and harsh HER recollections could be perceived, as sporadic and (seemingly) disjointed the chapters were, the sentiments were still all hers - and for that, 4 stars.

God forbid an artist create art for themselves.
November 16, 2018
An unusual story of family, death, separation, and estrangement. In telling the story of her brother Devon's death from AIDS. Ms Kincaid explores family relationships between herself, her mother, stepfather, and half brothers. She tells of her estrangement and separation from not only her family, but also from the land of her birth. This was certainly not what I was expecting when I started reading, but lends an insight into a world strange to someone from outside.
Profile Image for RT.
32 reviews1 follower
January 6, 2019
Sad in a dissociative way... but I enjoyed it. I suppose I relate to Jamaica's view of grief and grieving. Her writing is exploratory, not in a linear sense, but teased out little by little. Some don't enjoy this style of writing, slightly leaning towards stream of consciousness, but to me it adds a little sincerity.
Profile Image for Margaret.
56 reviews2 followers
June 7, 2018
Warning: This book is masterfully written yet too painful to read. One beautiful spot, "I had come to understand love, something so immediate it was always in front of me even when my back was turned away from it, something so immediate it was like breath itself."
Displaying 1 - 30 of 175 reviews

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