The Last Brother – David and Raj

Boys Laughing Whispering and Telling SecretsLast time we discussed the burgeoning friendship between Raj and David.  Both were imprisoned in a life that didn’t allow nine and ten-year old boys to just be boys.  Raj, badly beaten by his father, ends up in the prison hospital but is free to leave (actually physically thrust out in the arms of his father.)  David, sick with Malaria and Typhoid Fever, spends time in the same hospital but without the freedom to wander outside of the prison walls.

As Raj begins to recover from his injuries David and he begin their friendship.  Even with the language barrier they are able to understand the universal language of boys and venture outside the hospital, but remained within the confines of the prison walls.  The staff seemed to turn a blind eye to their evening escapades.  Why do you think that they did?

Major events in The Last Brother seem to come after a terrible storm.  What do you think Appanah is trying to convey?

After the cyclone David and Raj take shelter temporarily with Raj’s mother.  While knowing that David did not belong there she didn’t betray his presence at their home to either her husband or the police officer.  Raj believes that his actions on the day of the escape where selfishness. What was his mothers motivation? Why do you think she kept quiet?  She knew that he was ill do you think that, as an adult, she should have done something more than allow Raj and David to walk away?

As an adult Raj is filled with regret about David’s death:

“…But when I recall those summer days in 1945, when I speak of David, my heart is heavy, my head teems, and I am so assailed by regrets that I could weep.” (page 125)

Raj was just a young boy and even on reflection he blames only himself – not his mother. Do you understand why?

 

The Last Brother – After the Rain

Just a few days after the rain that stole his brothers from him the family moves across the island to enable his father to begin his new job at Beau-Bassin prison.  As the family travels Nathacha Appanah depicts a land lush with vegetation.  Her depiction of this side of the island is in stark contrast to the dust and sugar cane filled land where Raj spent his first eight years.  What, if anything, does this symbolize?  Describe the juxtaposition between the way he was raised and the way he and his wife raised their son.  Why do you think Appanah choose to have Raj only have one son?

At his new school Raj isolates himself from the other children.

“…the other lads called out to me sometimes, I would hold back, say no, and bow my head and the children would whisper among themselves, they used to say I was very sick and playing might kill me.  In truth, they were not wrong.  I was sick for my brothers and I felt sure that if I played with the others, laughed , joined in their games, I would be betraying them, alienating myself from them forever.” (page 31)

Why, after this self-imposed isolation, does Raj latch onto David?  What is it that sets David apart from the other boys that tried to befriend Raj?

An exterior view of the prison near Beau Bassin in which the men among the illegal immigrants to Mandate Palestine deported to Mauritius by the British were held. Accessed: Sept. 30,2014 http://www.infocenters.co.il/gfh/notebook_ext.asp?book=118531&lang=eng

An exterior view of the prison near Beau Bassin in which the men among the illegal immigrants to Mandate Palestine deported to Mauritius by the British were held. Accessed: Sept. 30,2014 http://www.infocenters.co.il/gfh/notebook_ext.asp?book=118531&lang=eng

The Prison

Through the barbed wire fence Raj’s first glimpse of Beau-Bassin is of “bushes with wild flowers, then a strip of lush, green grass and pots with gardenias, Marguerite daisies, and roses.”  What Raj called a “kind of tranquil splendor.” It wasn’t until later in reflection he realized that it was “only a facade,  it was all just for show, and if one probed just a little, darkness, squalor, cries, and tears were all there to be uncovered.”

Was this intentional on the part of those in power?  Compare and contrast the differences between Beau-Bassin  and any one of the extermination camps run by the Nazi regime.

Next time we’ll discuss David.

 

The Last Brother – Raj

I hope that you’ve picked up your copy of The Last Brother and have begun your journey.

Nathacha Appanah introduces us to Raj as he awakens from a dream of a child now grown, David, impossibly present. Raj struggles with the knowledge that the adult David cannot truly be with him.

     ” Suddenly I had had enough of waiting, I reached out my hand to him and it was morning, my room empty, the light dazzling, David vanished, the dream gone, my arm outstretched, outside the bedclothes, numb with cold, and my face bathed in tears.”

2007_jewish_mauritius_01For the past 60 years Raj has not dreamt of David.  Why does David visit him now?  Raj has lived on the island his entire life and yet has never visited the cemetery, but is compelled to afterward.    The author admits that she had no knowledge of the camp while she was growing up in Mauritius. Is there a lesson here for the reader?  

Why do you think the author chose to set the story so far after the actual events?  

In chapter one Raj reflects back to his time with David and wonders “I am the one who has survived and I am at pains to know why.   I have led a plain life, I have done nothing remarkable…”  In chapter 2, Raj is now an eight year old boy, unremarkable and, in his eyes, less worthy than his older brother Anil and his younger brother Vinod.  They have been living in abysmal conditions in a camp for sugar workers, the children of an alcoholic brutal man.  Raj is chosen to be the one child in the family to attend school, he is the only child that survives the flood.  “Why me?”

Raj is a “common man” who has survived a traumatic youth to become a beloved father and successful adult.  How has he have survived and thrived?  Why did the author choose such a “common man” to share this story?

The Last Brother by Nathacha Appanah

appanah and The last Brother

I must admit there is not much biographical information about the author.

Nathacha Appanah is French-Mauritian from a traditional Indian family background (Pathareddy Appanah) and was brought up in Mauritius (I’ll give you some information about Mauritius in another post so hang in there.) In Mauritius she worked on the Le Mauricien and Weekend Scope as a journalist.She came to live in France in 1998. (Source:Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2012. From Literature Resource Center)

A nice interview that she gave to PBS.

Reviews

A summary of the review from The Jewish Advocate: 

“This unusual story is concisely and exquisitely told by Nathacha Appanah, who was herself born in Mauritius in 1973 and lived there until she moved to France in 1998. She is of Indian descent, and her first book considers the arrival of indentured Indian workers in Mauritius. “The Last Brother,” her fourth novel, won several prizes in France, where it was originally published. Geoffrey Strachan, an award-winning translator, has done a fine job of rendering the eloquence of Appanah‘s writing into English as she presents what is essentially a tragic tale, relieved by elements of touching humanity.”

The New York Times Review.

There are more reviews visit Jericho Public Library . The library subscribes to a database “Literature Resource Center.” It contains literature criticism, author biographies, news and more.  Comprehensive coverage in an easy to use interface.  You can access this database via the Jericho Public Library website. Visit jericholibrary.org, click on the “Databases” tab and then click on “Adults.”  You can find the database either on the A-Z listing or click on the link for LiteratureYou will then need to enter your Jericho Public Library barcode (all fourteen numbers with no spaces.)

 

 

 

Our Next Book Discussion Book

OK I lied/fibbed I’m going to introduce the next book and while you’re on your way to the library to pick it up we’ll continue to discuss The End of the Point. Be warned there will be two posts today.  I know – Shocking!

With the intent of making the time for each discussion more brief I’ve chosen f two smaller/shorter books.  Don’t be fooled though they may be concise but I assure you the authors packed them full of wonderful content.

last brotherOur selection for September is The Last Brother by Nathacha Appanah.

“As 1944 comes to a close, nine-year old Raj is unaware of the war devastating the rest of the world.  He lives in Mauritius, a remote island in the Indian ocean, where survival is a daily struggle for his family. After a brutal beating lands Raj in the hospital of a prison camp, he meets David, a boy his own age.  David is a refugee, one of a group of Jewish exiles now indefinitely detained in Mauritius. When a massive storm on the island brings chaos and confusion to the camp, Raj is determined to help David escape.

Stop into the library and pick-up a copy.