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?

Posted in David, Mauritius, Nathacha Appanah, Raj, The Last Brother, The Last Brother by Natacha Appanah, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

In the Shadows of Beau Bassin

I came upon this short documentary and thought I would share it.

Kevin Harris, a South African independent filmmaker, produced a documentary entitled “In the Shadows of Beau Bassin” which narrates the saga of the deportation and detainment of Jewish refugees in Mauritius.

Posted in In the Shadows of Beau Bassin, Mauritius, The Last Brother by Natacha Appanah | Leave a comment

The Last Brother Setting – Mauritius

You may be wondering “Where in the World is Mauritius?”  With this post I hope to save you from you Google search, but feel free to venture out there and let me know if you find any interesting tidbit you would like to share.

Courtesy of the Republic of Mauritius website http://www.gov.mu/

Courtesy of the Republic of Mauritius website
http://www.gov.mu/

Image credit: Ker & Downey diving, via http://kerdowney.com

Image credit: Ker & Downey diving, via http://kerdowney.com

The Republic of Mauritius is located in the West Indian Ocean, 900 km (560 mi) E of Madagascar which is situated off the southeastern coast of Africa .

Most Mauritians are of Indian ancestry. Most are Hindus in religion, with smaller numbers of Muslims. The next largest group is the Creoles. They are of African, Malagasy (people from Madagascar), Indian, and European descent. Most Creoles are Christians. Some Chinese and Europeans, mainly of French origin, also live on the islands.

The official language is English. But most Mauritians speak French and Creole, a language derived from French.

More detailed information regarding Mauritius:

CIA World Factbook

Republic of Mauritius

Nathacha Appanah has stated in her interview with PBS Newshour that she was inspired to write the novel when she discovered the history of the internment.  She was surprised that she had grown up on the island but the history of the refugees was never spoken about.

On their way to Mauritius

 A Photo of the Camp accessed from -  A Far Away Island  http://jewishtraces.org/a-faraway-island/

A Photo of the Camp accessed from – A Far Away Island
http://jewishtraces.org/a-faraway-island/

Jewish Traces.org has published a testimony from Heinrich (now Henry) Wellisch about his time in the camp on Mauritius.

The Jewish Cemetery at St. Martin, 1940 – 2007_jewish_mauritius_011945 (on the southern tip of the island).

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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

 

 

Posted in The End of the Point by Elizabeth Graver, Ashaunt Point, Helen, Charlie, Conservation, Thoreau | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Book discussion, Nathacha Appanah, Next Book, The Last Brother, The Last Brother by Natacha Appanah | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Ashaunt Point, Elizabeth Graver, The End of the Point by Elizabeth Graver | Leave a comment

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)

Posted in A question for you., Burial Rites by Hannah Kent, Talking about books | Leave a comment

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