Monday, 20 April 2015

The Last Brother - Nathacha Appanah

Sometimes a small account of history crosses your path, and takes your breath away.  This is what happened when I read this.  In 1940, some 1,500 European Jews, fleeing the Nazis, arrived on the ship Atlantic at Port-Louis, Mauritus after being turned away from Haifa for not having correct immigration  papers.  Mauritus was at that time a British protectorate, and on arrival they were imprisoned for the rest of the war.
This short novel of around 200 pages, is told by Raj, a Mauritian of Indian extraction, who at the time of the Jewish imprisonment was nine years old.  Living with his two brothers, his mother and father in abject poverty like the rest of the sugar cane workers, his experience of life is very small indeed, and when the tragedy of a huge storm wipes out the plantation and takes with it the lives of his two brothers, his life is changed for ever.  He finds himself living in a house near what turns out to be the prison where the Jews are held and there, through the barbed wire fence, he and David espy each other.  The story of this very short friendship and how it effected Raj for the rest of his life is told here.  A very moving telling of the end of childhood. 
Nathacha Appanah is a Mauritian journalist, now working in France.  Beautifully translated by Geoffrey Strachan.