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2011 Books in Translation

The Last Brother by Nathacha Appanah

The Last Brother  Translated from the French by Geoffrey Strachan

Five words from the blurb: boy, friends, island, prison, Jewish

The Last Brother caught my attention earlier this year when several of my favourite bloggers started to rave about it. I’m really pleased that I acted on their recommendations as this is a fantastic little book that deserves a wider audience.

This short book is very hard to review without giving spoilers and so if you are sensitive to them I suggest that you avoid reading all reviews and dive straight in. The blurb on the back of the book also explains the entire plot so I recommend that you avoid that too.

The Last Brother is set on the island of Mauritius and tells the story of Raj, a nine year-old boy, who has had a difficult childhood. His abusive father gets a job as a prison warder and this leads Raj to discover that WWII is being fought on the other side of the world and Jewish exiles are being shipped and detained on his island.

Now that I knew who was hidden there within the darknes of the pathways, knew the walls that towered around them, heard the sound of the grass beneath their feet, heard their singing in the evening, I viewed them with great sadness…

I had no idea that Jews were imprisoned on Mauritius during WWII so it was good to be educated about this lesser known piece of history.

The book was beautifully written; the prose simple, but engaging. I quickly connected with Raj and felt enormous sympathy for his situation. In many ways this book reminded me of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, but with a more realistic plot.

I liked the way the book was narrated by a 70 year-old Raj. This allowed an adult perspective to be given, whilst still allowing the childhood innocence to shine through.

My only criticism is that the book was very predictable.  I knew exactly what was going to happen from the beginning and I’d have liked a few extra snippets of information to add to the impact of the inevitable ending.

Overall this is a quick, easy read with an emotional undercurrent. Recommended.

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The thoughts of other bloggers:

…a powerful novel that packs a huge emotional punch. Devourer of Books

…a haunting novel which has been beautifully translated from the French. Caribousmom

It’s a beautiful treatise on the need for love and the scars inflicted by loss. S. Krishna’s Books

11 replies on “The Last Brother by Nathacha Appanah”

Sounds really interesting, thanks for the review – and the spoiler warning! I skipped most of what you wrote but know enough to look for this one now at least!

I loved this book, too. The prose was so poetic and beautiful, and while I haven’t read The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, I’ve seen the movie and agree that this book sounds more realistic. I’ve linked to your review on War Through the Generations.

Anna, Thanks for the link :-) I haven’t watched The Boy in the Striped PJs as I’m worried it will be too depressing. I did enjoy reading it, but the plot stretched things a bit far. I didn’t think The Last Brother had the same emotional impact as Striped PJs, but I appreciated the writing a lot more. Glad you loved The Last Brother too!

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