Monday, April 09, 2018

Mauritius: The Last Brother, by Nathacha Appanah

Nathacha Appanah is a French Mauritian of Indian origin, and worked there as a journalist before moving to France in 1998.

"The Last Brother" is set in the final years of World War II, although the young protagonist, a boy named Raj, does not know what is happening outside his island home. When a flash flood sweeps away his two brothers, Anil and Vinod, he and his parents leave their village to cope with their grief, his father taking up a new job as a prison guard. Raj, a victim of his father's savage beatings, spends time in the prison hospital, where he meets and befriends David, a young Jewish boy.

David is one of a group of European Jews who had taken ship for Palestine to escape Hitler. However the British, who were in charge of Palestine at the time, would not allow the ship to land, and the passengers were interred on the island of Mauritius for the duration of the war, where 127 of them perished.

All this is in the past when Raj, now a seventy year old man, narrates the events of those days. He carries a deep burden of guilt, and of regret for the lost David, his only friend after his brothers' death. The story benefits from the dual perspective - the simplicity of the child to whom the events happened, with the more reflective view of the old man looking back. Lyrical and poignant,it has been translated from the French by Geoffrey Strachan, and published by Maclehose Press.

No comments: