Good for the soul

2008-06-11 00:00

My Brother’s Book

by Jo-Anne Richards

Picador Africa

An evocative home-grown novel which caught me by surprise with its perceptive and convincing portrayal of family dynamics, My Brother’s Book is a journey from childhood naïvety to adulthood and all its insecurities. It plays havoc with the acquired belief systems of a man, tortured by the idyllic childhood he thinks he never had.

Lily and Tom are the children of Bert, a wanderer who never allows them to put down roots. They are moved from backwater town to town, never in one place long enough to make real friends and form a sense of belonging.

Staying in a string of cheap hotels and boarding houses, Tom grows resentful of his errant Pop, while Lily hero-worships the colourful character her father is. They don’t fit in with the white children of the sixties and while they try to befriend the local coloured populations in the towns they stay, they are not part of that group either.

Now skip ahead to adult years. Lily and Tom are estranged and their ebullient father, once a hero boxing champ, is reduced to a shade of his former self by dignity-sapping Alzheimers. Lily has somehow betrayed Tom and no amount of apologising from her will sway his anger.

Miranda, an ex-girlfriend of Tom’s, is their only common link. Through Lily and Miranda’s letters, which are essentially their way of indignantly correcting the past which Tom has subjectively written in his published book, we sense their longing for emotional acknowledgment by Tom.

But Tom’s sense of anger, betrayal and isolation fills the gap where they should be, and Lily’s longing for her brother’s forgiveness is ignored. Tom has joined and left the priesthood, and is now working for an NGO trying to quell rising violence in South Africa.

But what did his sister do wrong? The book weaves around this mystery until the climax at the end where it all comes out. As I turned the last pages, I was reaching for the tissues, not because it was merely sentimental, but because of the heart-wrenching truths which were revealed.

My Brother’s Book is a read which I found good for the soul — and the memory of those types of books always endures. Richards’s book deserves to be a bestseller.

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