Wednesday, February 29, 2012

book review: The Last Brother by Nathacha Appanah

Translated from the French by Geoffrey Strachen.

The backstory: The Last Brother is a finalist in the 2012 Tournament of Books.

The basics: This story of Mauritius during World War II is the story of Raj, who was nine years old in 1944, and his unlikely friend David, a Jewish refugee from Czechoslovakia who was imprisoned on the island after being turned away from Palestine.

My thoughts: This novel has so many things working in its favor. The setting of Mauritius was captivating, and I learned about the island's history. It's a lost story of World War II few are aware of, and the imprisonment of European Jewish refugees was fascinating and harrowing.

Unfortunately, all of these positive attributes were undone by the way Appanah chose to tell the story. The novel opens with Raj, who is seventy years old. He is retelling the story of his childhood, but the narration was an awkward blend of present tense and past tense. I wish Appanah would have used a split narrative instead. Seeing the events of 1944 through Raj's eyes at the time would have been more interesting. It's clear to the reader Raj was ignorant of the war, religion, and death camps. Instead the story was told through an awkward mix of Raj's memory sixty years later and his perceptions as a child. This narrative structure impacted the flow and pace of this novel, and I distracted from the story. Instead of being swept away by this intriguing setting and tale, I was focused on why I wasn't enjoying it and thinking of its construction.

The verdict: Despite a strong premise, the narrative style distracted and bored me. It's a wonderful story at its core, but I didn't like the storytelling, and the style hindered my enjoyment of this quiet novel immensely. Just as telling: I didn't make note of a single passage in this novel.

Rating: 3 out of 5
Length: 208 pages
Publication date: February 1, 2011
Source: interlibrary loan

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Last Brother from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle version.)

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  1. Oh, I am sorry that this book was organized so poorly. It sounds as if the author couldn't commit to one style throughout, and was disinclined to break the narrative into parts. I don't think I will be reading this one, but I appreciated your candid take on it. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Boo, too bad -- I hate it when a promising story doesn't work. Will pass on this one -- my TBR is too long!

    1. @Audra--I hate that too, especially when everyone else seems to love it!

  3. Sorry to see the narrative style bored you a bit. I actually found the writing poetic and absolutely loved it.

    1. Anna--I think I'm in the minority here. Every other review I read was gushing, but it just didn't work for me. I'm glad you loved it!

  4. I've been very curious about this one as the reviews seem mixed. Thanks so much as always, for your honest review.

  5. Wait a minute, there is actually a WWII book I don't have to read? Fine with me :)

  6. Aww! Sorry this one didn't work as well for you. Somehow I noticed the structure as I was reading, but I didn't really NOTICE it. I thought about it occasionally but it didn't impact my enjoyment.


Thank you for taking the time to comment. Happy reading!