The Last Brother by Nathacha Appanah, translated by Geoffrey Stachan is a quiet novel that hits the heart, twisting it until tears pour from the reader’s eyes. Beginning slowly with the main character awaking from a dream, the novel builds to a crescendo, followed by still powerful diminuendo of reflection. Appanah and Stachan’s translation provide a sense of distance from the characters at first, but pull readers in through the magic of the dreams and the jungle, generating the sense of hollowness and fullness of love in tension.
Set in Mauritius, Raj is in his 70s and is looking back on his time as an abused child in a poor family and the one friend he made following a major disaster that struck his small village of Mapou, which forced his family to leave and live near the island’s Beau-Bassin prison. Raj’s family is poor, but happy as his two other brothers — Anil and Vinod — look out for him, even though he is the middle brother. He is the one chosen to attend school, which he gladly shares with his brothers when he returns home to share the chore of obtaining water from the well.
“. . . in the old days at Mapou we used to crouch down, eating our mangoes with both hands, with the juice trickling down our forearms, quickly catching it with our tongues. In the old days at Mapou we ate the whole mango, the skin, the little, rather hard tip that had held it to the branch and we sucked the stone for a long, long time until it was rough and insipid, good only to throw on the fire.” (page 44)
The connection between the brothers is severed and Raj is forced to leave his home with his parents as his father begins working as a guard at the Beau-Bassin prison, where in 1940 Jews were exiled during WWII. Raj is still a child by modern standards at age 9 when he discovers the true wrath of his father and the world around him. His father is easily displeased, particularly when drunk, and he often beats his children after taking whatever displeasure he has out on his wife. In many ways, this rage shapes the boy that Raj becomes — secretive and imaginative. He spends afternoons in the jungle, hiding and observing, especially once he learns of the prison and the bad man his father says are imprisoned there. It is his father’s rage and beatings that send Raj to the hospital inside the prison to recover and where he meets David.
Much of Raj’s life after leaving Mapou has been empty, but meeting David awakens in him his childhood and renews feelings of brotherhood. The Last Brother by Nathacha Appanah and translated by Geoffrey Stachan is stunning in its double entendre as the story of the last brother Raj and his own last “brother” David. Raj is a deeply complex character as he looks at the past, his regrets about the choices he made and promises he could not keep, and his hope that the future will learn about the past so as to maintain the memory of those who have been lost.
About the Author:
Nathacha Devi Pathareddy Appanah is a Mauritian-French author. She comes from a traditional Indian family.
She spent most of her teenage years in Mauritius and also worked as a journalist/columnist at Le Mauricien and Week-End Scope before emigrating to France.
Since 1998, Nathacha Appanah is well-known as an active writer. Her first book Les Rochers de Poudre d’Or (published by Éditions Gallimard) received the ” Prix du Livre RFO”. The book was based on the arrival of Indian immigrants in Mauritius.
She also wrote two other books Blue Bay Palace and La Noce d’Anna which also received some prizes for best book in some regional festivals in France.
***I read this because of Anna’s glowing review at Diary of an Eccentric.
This is my 35th book for the 2012 New Authors Challenge.