Nathacha Appanah’s “The Last Brother” – book review

I came across The Last Brother by coincidence and I read it in one breathless sitting. The plot is set in 1940s Mauritius. The narrator, Raj – a poor boy with a tragic past, befriends a stranger through the prison fence. His name is David and had been on board of a ship called The Atlantic. The ship was supposed to take Jewish immigrants from Central Europe (Austria, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania) to Palestine. But the British Authorities denied them entry to Palestine and sent them to a detainment camp in Mauritius.

An unlikely friendship develops between Raj, who is completely unaware of the horrors of the war in Europe and David, who is unused to his new tropical surroundings.

This is not a happy book, as you can probably guess. Goodreads lists it as “Holocaust literature”, and it’s not terribly far off the mark. I was unaware of the extent of the callousness of the British with regard to the Jewish situation during World War II, and for even for that reason alone, I was very glad I picked up this book. But there is more unhappiness to the book than the agony in distant Europe: sudden death, domestic violence, and malaria are part and parcel of this plot. Don’t reach for this one if you don’t feel emotionally up to it. That said, I found it a really gripping and emotional first-person narrative.

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