Nathacha Appanah grew up in a traditional Indian family on Mauritius, an island in the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar. As an adult, she emigrated to France and is currently based in Paris. She has published four novels in French, and this is the first of her novels to be published in translation in the United States. (Blue Bay Palace was translated into English and published in the U.K. in 2009.)
The Last Brother is a coming-of-age novel centered around a friendship between two young boys, which also captures a little-known World War II event. What could have been a heavy, tragic story is written with a beautifully light touch.
The following review makes clear its potential appeal to teens. I will just add that while this is a relatively small book, under 200 pages, a paperback original, it accomplishes much within its pages. This is an exciting find, that I can imagine doing well in school and public library collections, especially with a little hand-selling to get the ball rolling.
Adult/High School–In 1945, on the island of Mauritius, eight-year-old Raj survives the flash flood that claims the lives of his two brothers. Grief-stricken, his family moves from their camp by the sugar plantation to the center of the island where his brutally abusive father has found work as a prison guard. While delivering lunch to his father, Raj observes a fair-haired European boy in the prison yard. David is one of 200 European Jews who were detained on Mauritius after the British denied them entry to Palestine. Sickly and orphaned, David forms a brotherly bond with Raj. In the chaos of a severe cyclone, Raj frees him from the prison and the two boys make a desperately naïve, doomed attempt to escape the authorities. Appanah uses language as rich and beautiful as the jungles of her native Mauritius to tell a small but powerful story of youthful innocence and hope glimmering amid the incomprehensible grief, loss, and violence of World War II. The events of Raj’s youth, told as a reflection from later in his life, unfold with the dreamy quality of distant memories until they are punctuated by vivid descriptions, such as finding the walking stick of his perished brother, that splinter the imagination. This unforgettable and heartbreaking story combines enough risky misadventure and mystery to appeal to teens, who will also appreciate its easy fablelike narrative. It is a worthy addition to any collection of World War II literature.–John Sexton, formerly of Westchester Library System, NY