The Last Brother, Nathacha Appanah, Graywolf Press, 2011, 164 pp (Editions d"Olivier, France, 2007, translated from French by Geoffrey Strachan)
I loved this book. It was a contender in the third round of the Tournament of Books. The writing is stellar; because it was translated from French to English, I am also praising the translation.
The elderly Raj is looking back on his childhood on the island of Mauritius, set in the Indian Ocean. Due to poverty and an alcoholic, abusive father, childhood was hard enough but when the boy's two brothers died on the same day, life for this nine-year-old child became almost insupportable.
Because of another brutal incident Raj meets David, a child his own age, who becomes both burden and savior for one of the saddest boys I have ever met in a novel.
In less than 200 pages, the author wove a story of loss and longing, survival and guilt, love and friendship, family and social life, disaster and the effects of war. All of that would be enough to weigh down a 600 page tome. Instead she wrote a fairytale set in the intersections between humans and the natural world.
Raj and David are mostly ignorant of the tragedies that brought them together, as was I before I read the book. If you read other reviews, you get too much information in my opinion, which lessens the impact. Raj as an old man finally learns about the historical events of his childhood and thus is delivered from all that he has carried for over 60 years.
(The Last Brother is available in paperback and Google eBook by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)