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.)

 

 

 

Posted in JPL's Book-In-A-Blog, Mauritius, Nathacha Appanah, The Last Brother, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The End of the Point – Charlie/Helen/Nature

Hiking in Sol Duc River ValleyI couldn’t end the discussion without talking about Charlie and conservation.  As I have stated before I live on Long Island – no not the Long Island that is the haven for the rich and powerful.  I live near some of that and have driven passed the tall hedges on the East End that protect the privileged from the riff-raff.  What is happening all over is that small homes near me and larger homes near them are being bought and renovated so that they take over the entire property – almost edge to edge.  Beyond the sheer massiveness of the houses what bothers me the most is the lack of nature permitted by the new owners.

What I have witnessed it in my small corner of the world.

New owners buy the property and the  first thing to go are all of the trees, then the shrubs and then the house.  Perhaps I’m missing something but one of the reasons to live in suburbia is the ability to find a haven under a tree, listen to the rustle of leaves overhead, and watch in wonder as the leaves change from green to the russet shades of red in the fall.

Oh boy, am I sounding like Charlie?

Now on to the book.

Charlie, in his attempt the eschew civilization, attached himself to Jerry.  He believed that he has found a compatriot in his “Thoreau like” back to nature approach.  Do you think Charlie was naive or idealistic?  What was Charlie hoping to find?

Later on in the “1999” section it is Helen that is watching the further gentrification of the Point.  She observes the “Uh-Ohs” and the huge domesticated mansions with their overly manicured lawns and their electric lines. In her own way she resists.

“Once, she used to fertilize, divide, deadhead, mix in annuals for color.  Then for a while she hired a gardener, but eventually, she let her garden go…No matter that it’s untended; the blooms impress her with their persistence, and the interlopers-Queen Ann’s lace, chicory, goldenrod, thistle-are unruly gifts.”

Has Helen finally let go?  She has always love Ashaunt, but in her own way has tried to control it and everything around her.  Is it her illness that has motivated the change in her, or is it something else?

I felt a great connection between Thoreau and Graver within the pages of The End of the Point.  What do you think Graver was trying to convey?

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential changing colorfacts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.” Walden, Henry David Thoreau

 

 

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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.

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The End of the Point – Discussion Questions Helen and Charlie

It’s 1960 and Helen is overwhelmed with children, her studies at Columbia, and therapy.
What do you think of Dr. Hoffman’s ultimatum that Helen either terminate her pregnancy or terminate therapy?
Given the fragility of Dossy why does Helen reach out to her?

It is during this section of the novel that we get a sense of where Charlie is headed: he loves Ashaunt, at ten he’s injured by Close-up mid section of woman holding seedlingattempting to make gunpowder bombs from old shotgun shells. Is what occurs later inevitable? What do you think Graver is trying to convey via Charlie’s character?

It’s time to move on to our next selection so I’m going to have to wrap up the discussion of The End of the Point.  I know that I’ve barely tapped the depths of the book. Even though I’m moving on feel free to post a comment or question.  I would be happy to stay on Ashaunt longer.

I do see that so many are lurking, but I would love to read your thoughts on any of the topics that I’ve covered.

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A Quick Thought and Then Back to the Book!

bulldog wearing eyeglasses sleeping over a good novelHave you ever begun a book that received great reviews and been befuddled as to why?

Was it the book?

Was it you?

I was just conversing with a couple of colleagues and we were talking about books (shocking I know).  Two of us are reading the same novel and loving it and the other librarian began the book and decided she just wasn’t in the mood for this type of book and stopped reading. Similarly, I was reading a book that received glowing reviews in the blogosphere and I got about half way through and wasn’t engaged so I stopped reading.

I think that in both instances it wasn’t the book that failed to engage the reader it was the reader that failed to engage with the book.

Burial Rites was not the book I bagged.  I actually love it, I just thought I'd share my picture with you.

Burial Rites was not the book I bagged. I actually love it, I just thought I’d share my picture with you.

What do you think?

Additionally, if you have ever bagged a book because it just wasn’t the right time did you

ever give it a second chance?

Most of what makes a book ‘good’ is that we are reading it at the right moment for

us.” (Alain de Botton)

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The End of the Point – Helen

Fashionable woman in New York City, 1949 (1)

Courtesy of Vintage Everyday

I know that I’ve spent a great deal of time discussing Bea, but now it is time to talk about Helen. Her presence in the novel blossoms in the second part of the book “Plants and Their Children 1947-1961.” At this point the novel becomes epistolary.

Graver seems to quickly elapse time within this section. The time between 1947-1961 transports us from Helen’s visit to Charlies’s grave in 1947 to the birth of Percy.  We have learned that the girls have grown.  Helen is attending school, and is in analysis.  Why do you think Graver chose to cover such a long period of time in this manner?

A really good question from BookBrowse (there are more questions there if you would like to experience them) – Helen, who comes of age in the 1940’s and 50’s, is torn between a number of ambitions and drives. How do the circumstances she was born into inform who she is? What do you view as her strengths and weaknesses as a sister, wife, intellectual, and mother?

Next we’ll discuss “Trespass 1970.”

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The End of the Point – Regret

il_340x270.238893704

A box made out of shells is empty unless you fill it.

So much of what goes on in the novel is about choice or lack thereof.  When we end the first section that takes place in 1942 Bea comes to the realization that she has had the luxury of making her first choice – to not marry Smitty.

“…staying at home because her mother was ill and needed nursing; coming to America because her mother had died; staying in  America because-why?  A tightly wrapped bundle that mewed like a cat.” “All of this was true, though none of it quite hers.  That summer, finally: a choice.”

Juxtapose Bea’s decision to remain with the Porter family and not marry Smitty with the decision that Charlie makes to run off and marry? What drives them to make their decision?

In the caption of the picture above I made the observation about the empty box.  Do you think that Bea has lost her chance to fill her life, or do you think she’s satisfied with the choices that she’s made along the way?  Given the pull of outside influences can any of us truly be satisfied?

Elizabeth Graver has kept us in 1942 during this section, but has chosen to end with Janie’s visit  to Scotland.  Why do you think Graver has ended this way?

During the visit Janie recalls that Bea refused the proposal because Janie forbid it.  Whose memory do you believe.

Posted in Elizabeth Graver, Family Relationships, JPL's Book-In-A-Blog, Marriage proposal, Online Book Discussion, Smitty, The End of the Point by Elizabeth Graver | Leave a comment

The End of the Point – Discussion Questions

Not Bea, but perhaps this is what Smitty saw.

Not Bea, but perhaps this is what Smitty saw.

Until the incident with Janie I wasn’t certain about Bea’s true feelings for Smitty.  On page 97 she finally admits “The problem was her falling for Smitty in the first place, for she’d fallen badly, hadn’t she, and she was falling still.”

Why do you think that she realizes this now?  

Do you think Mrs. Porter was fair to Bea with her thinly veiled plea to Bea to stay with the family?

Even if the incident with Janie had not occurred do you think that Bea could/would have ever left the Porter family?

Prior Stewart showing up, Bea and Smitty began to share the idea of having a future together and having a family.  “She had long ago given up the idea of having her own child-not given up, even, just never let the desire quite take shape, until in its shapelessness, it evaporated, slipped away. Now, fresh from the water, met by his words, she felt as if anything could happen: inside, out.” (page 85)

Why does she relinquish her future with Smitty so quickly?  

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Setting

9558933I love Cape Cod unfortunately this year I won’t be able to get there so why not drag you all along as I visit one of my favorite places via one of my favorite novels.

We have left the West Coast and traveled over 2500 miles and have landed in a fictional jut of land near Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  Yet again I’ve chosen a novel where sense of place is so important.  In Where’d You Go, Bernadette? Seattle was a crucial aspect of the plot. One might argue that Semple could have placed Bernadette anywhere and she might have cracked regardless of place, but I get the sense that the peculiarities of Seattle (weather, population, Microsoft, proximity to Canada, etc.) were instrumental in pushing our beloved Bernadette over the proverbial Blackberry bush overrun cliff.

I said in my earlier review “It’s the land that draws the family back year after year,

summer after summer.  It’s the land that holds them together, shelters them, comforts and holds them.  A land that will change over time with hurricanes,  wars, and impending development – changes that take place outside of the Porter’s control.”

Do you agree? Does Ashaunt Point play a vital role in the story?  Why or why not?

In an interview with BookBrowse Elizabeth Graver discusses in length about the setting and why she chose Buzzards Bay.

“Over they ears, as the story took shape, I spent a part of every summer and many fall and spring weekends at the real place that my fictional place grew out of. Often,while I was there, I wrote. I walked the paths, navigated the rocks to swim in the ocean and began to feel that the land—and the one-room cabin my husband had built on it—was a kind of home to me—not(as it is to my husband and our daughters) a first home, but a surrogate second home, at once alluring and vexed. I watched my children learn to walk, swim and ve in nature there, the place a great gift for them but also a complicated privilege and even a danger—for how fully it can shelter and how much it can exclude. I used this real place as a way to begin to imagine my fictional Ashaunt Point.”

Is there a place that evokes this feeling for you?  

 

“Generations of my husband’s immediate and extended family have spent summers at this place, the land getting increasingly divided up, as smaller cabins were built behind bigger houses and property changed hands or was sold off. During WWII, part of the peninsula was taken over by the army, which established a Harbor Entrance Control Post where it stationed 200 troops.  Later, new property owners, “outsiders,”bought land and built houses with heat and swimming pools.  What used to be fields kept low by sheep have grown into thickets.”

Even if there is no “special place” that you visit on vacation if you live on  Long Island you may be noticing a shrinking of what make “the Island” special – huge houses are being constructed on land that was set aside for much smaller homes, the “urbanization” of a suburban community.  Does this resonate with you?  

Keep reading and please share your thoughts with all of us.

 

Posted in Ashaunt Point, Author Interview, BookBrowse, Elizabeth Graver, Setting, The End of the Point by Elizabeth Graver, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The End of the Point – Discussion Questions – Bea (Spoiler Alert)

The End of the Point - July 2014

The End of the Point – July 2014

I hope that you are all a few chapters into the novel at this point.

By Chapter X we’ve met the porter family except for Charlie (he’s off fighting the war,) via the nursemaid Bea.

Why do you think that the author chose to introduce the family from Bea’s perspective? 

In my opinion, Graver has managed to make what could have been an innocuous character multifaceted and compelling.

What do you think of Bea?

Not Bea and Smitty but I couldn't resist-it just seemed so right.  This is actually a still from "Nanny McPhee"

Not Bea and Smitty but I couldn’t resist-it just seemed so right. This is actually a still from “Nanny McPhee”

Seemingly content with her life, and totally committed to the care of Janie she does mention that she feels that nothing is truly hers – her money (Mr. Porter takes care of it), her room, even the person that she loves more than life (Janie) isn’t hers.  Janie is at an age where she is beginning to pull away from Bea and is expressing her desire for more autonomy.  Bea on the other hand is being given the opportunity to finally have a life of her own with Smitty and yet seems reluctant.

     “Not since tending Janie as an infant had she come so close to someone, not since tending her mother on her deathbed, though this was even closer, to be inside his mouth this way and he in hers.  He wanted her, that was the difference- he was no baby or old woman: he wanted her because he wanted her, because she was a woman and he a man, because perhaps?) she was herself.”(page 51-52)

Why then at that moment of realization does Bea pull away?

We have also learned why Bea left her Scotland.  After caring for  her mother during her two-year illness, decline and ultimate death, Bea finds herself at twenty-three untethered, unloved and redundant.  Her father and brother don’t need her. Shortly after her mother’s death Bea’s aunt moves in and fills the void for her father.  Callum is about to get married.  “…but more potent was her sense that both she and her mother were being quickly and practically replaced.”

Having already experienced redundancy why doesn’t Bea follow her mother’s advice “take care of yourself”, and jump at the opportunity of having a life with Smitty?  

Is she too much like her father?  “He did not try, as far as she could tell, to help himself.”

 

 

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