Older Brother is an interesting study of what it is to be a Muslim in modern day France.
The two brothers have Syrian heritage but moved to France many years before the current Syrian conflict. Their father is an atheist communist, and they have French Breton ancestry on their mother's side. So in fact, the two brothers are only Muslim through people's assumptions rather than their own upbringing. However, this is enough to create a distance between them and their French neighbours.
The older brother drives for Uber. His father has invested his pension fund into an official taxi licence and has to sit watching helplessly as the Uber wave washes away the value of the official licences. The younger brother is a trained nurse who has volunteered with a shadowy NGO to offer healthcare to embattled Muslim populations around the world. Perhaps he is in Syria.
The story foll0ws the brothers as they reunite in Paris - the younger brother having fled from Raqqa after finding the Islamic dream was really a nightmare. But France does not welcome returning jihadists, suspecting that many are sleeper agents pursuing a suicide-terror agenda.
The novel explores themes of conflicted loyalties - the loyalty to a brother or to a state; loyalty to a heritage or to a future. There are questions of trust; how far can you trust someone when their story keeps changing? Is this someone gradually coming clean or someone further obfuscating? And as older brother is expected to side with the state and the law, he finds that the state and the law do not reciprocate.
The story is compelling and complex. The pacing, however, starts off quite slowly. There are parts of the older brother's voice that feel quite clunky and it isn't clear whether this is supposed to reflect a narrator who is not completely comfortable speaking French or whether it is a sign of poor translation from French to English. Overall, though, these are minor considerations in a novel that is readable, suspenseful and addresses important and current social issues.
Review of History of Violence by Edouard Louis, translated by Lorin Stein
The follow on to the autobiographical novel of The End of Eddy and Eddy is now living in Paris and heading to his apartment after a Christmas Eve meet with friends for Dinner. He is stopped in the street by a stranger and while Eddy tries to get away, eventually they both go back to hi with the night ending in Reda raping, assaulting and trying to murder Eddy.
The novel deals with the event and aftermath, told through both Eddy's point of view and from listening to his sister tell her husband about what happened.
This I found to be a very engrossing, heartfelt, afflicting read about the trauma of a traumatic event, trying to tell it to the French police the incident but responses of racism as the perpetrator was of North African descent, trying to deal with friends and family about the incident. The narration of the event takes on a kind of slow motion in it.
Definitely not a book for everyone but I did feel that despite the difficult subject of the novel, that it was an excellent, affecting and absorbing read.
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Review of The Bear and the Paving Stone by Toshiyuku Horie, translated by Geraint Howells
This short story collection has three stories in it. In the first, the title story, a man visits his friend from Petanque in Western France and has a weird dream involving the footpath becoming bears. Further to this, both recollecting of the past and looking at the present where the narrator gets to know the friend's neighbour and her blind son. The friend is Jewish and there is remembrance to events of World War 2 in the novel. The second story is about the narrator joining a woman on a beach to remember the anniversary of her brother's death (his friend) and the third involves two friends breaking into an old castle, one where the groundskeeper would even refuse the President of the Republic if he didn't have proper authorisation
The Bear and Paving Stone * * * * *
Sandman is Coming * * * 1/2
The Old Castle * * * *
All three stories were very good and I really enjoyed this collection, rather than full plotted stories, this is more about interaction between people than intrinsic plots and complicated storylines. At times, funny, other times heartfelt, it is always a pleasure when a short story collection does not let me down in the reading of it.
* * * *