Brothers - Ted Van Lieshout
Any book that tries something different and carries it off has to be applauded. This is a very quick read, as itís a book aimed at the older teen. Itís a story of death and emerging sexuality, family relationships and painful confessions.
Maus, fourteen, is dead, and his mother is about to have a ritual burning of his things. Luke, Mausís sixteen-year-old brother, decides to save and then read Mausís diary. What transpires is a painful journey into his own hidden life as much as his botherís. Parents often donít come over well in novels designed for adolescents, and this one is no exception. Thereís no particular explanation for why they are so estranged from their children, and I felt quite sorry for the mother being portrayed as so appalling without any real justification.
This isnít something Iíd read again. Worth reading if you can borrow a copy, but I donít think that for adults it would have enough meat.
(So to speak)
Can you still be someoneís brother if that someone no longer exists?† That is the troubling question asked by Luke, whose brother Marius (known as Maus) died six months earlier.†
This is a stunning book, incredibly moving, and at times painfully sad.† The writing is simple and that suits the subject matter very nicely.† Plain speech, unadorned with fancy words to create distance or cushion the blow, none of the euphemisms used by adults to spare feelings.
For this is a novel about fundamentals of life, death and truth.† Amazingly itís written for young adults.† No escapist fantasy, no wizards or immense battles between forces of good and evil.† The scale is small and domestic, one 16 year old and his family, struggling to deal with loss and find a way to go on despite the gaping hole left in their lives by the death of a child, a brother. When something terrible happens life becomes a struggle to find a way to cope with constant reminders of absence, the harsh reality that while the family is traumatised by grief all around life goes on as if nothing had happened.†
Lukeís mother has decided itís time to move on, to keep memories of her dead son but dispose of everything that had belonged to him in a ritual bonfire, on what wouldíve been his 15th birthday.† Luke steals back the diary heíd given Maus when he turned 13 and starts filling in the empty pages, so it becomes HIS, therefore safe from burning. Why he does this is the story.
Itís 1973, in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, and Luke is uncomfortably aware time is pushing him further from Maus, forever 14.† He thinks his mother is getting rid of evidence he existed, and that scares him.† Already he canít recall the sound of his brotherís voice.
Mariusí mother doesnít recognise the rest of the family isnít ready to let go.† Her husband is 65, a quiet man who canít express feelings openly, ashamed to be caught crying. On the surface Lukeís motherís actions seem callous, difficult to understand, selfish.† She even tells Luke her grief is greater because she has lost a son.† But, says Luke, she still has another child while he no longer has a brother.† Yet sheís sympathetic too, with strength and will to pull her family together.† The bonfire forces Luke to deal with Marius and a secret they shared that shouldíve brought them together.
Luke gave Maus the diary because he thought itíd be good for him to write down the things that bothered him, to get rid of nervous tension doctors blamed for a trembling finger.† When Luke begins to write between entries itís like the brothers talk to each other in the way they couldnít when Maus was alive. Through the diary Luke gets to know the brother heís lost and finds courage to face who he is from a boy trapped in an increasingly fragile body, struggling to articulate thoughts he canít speak.†
This is Luke & Mausí story and deals with big questions, like what determines sexuality, coming out, self-acceptance, fear, shame, and confusion.† Itís very matter-of-fact and powerfully real.† I loved the idea of Pangaea - named for the single continent that existed before the divide- that artificial separation of people into gay and straight eventually will come back together again, like Platoís notion of the sexes once joined together looking for their other halves.†
The positive approach to emerging sexuality makes this book perfect for young people struggling with feelings they donít understand.† That boys can fall in love with other boys is shown as natural and its expression something beautiful.†
This isnít just for gay kids, for weíre united by our humanity and experiences, and the simple prose touches the heart and lingers long, like Maus will always be part of Luke.† Any child who has lost a sibling would identify with Luke.† Grief is the same whether youíre male or female, gay or straight, young or old.† Through suffering we find greater understanding, strength and self-knowledge. Very highly recommended.