In Everything I Never Told You, the suspicious death of a teenager is the starting point for extended flashbacks that tell the story of a mixed-race family, from the parents’s alienation from their own families to the three children’s complicated reactions to their parents’ unrelenting push to achieve. I thought that the descriptions of the intricate relationships between siblings, both loving and competitive, were particularly well described. The unrelenting mother seemed to me surprisingly out of touch and forced, however.
Tag Archives: siblings
The author’s brother, at age 60+, decides to become a woman and My Brother My Sister: Story of a Transformation describes what it’s like for his, now her, sister. Some aspects of the change seem straightforward, if challenging, such as remembering to use the new name. Others seem to offer surprising amounts of torment, such as introducing this changed sibling to friends (although I understand it’s a challenge to introduce his/her ex-wife). And some seem a little silly, such as feeling an overwhelming need to critique the now-sister’s fashion choices.
Interestingly, the author is friends with the author of Shocked, who makes a brief appearance two thirds through the book.
And the Mountains Echoed opens with a breathtaking bedtime story that introduces the brother and sister whose families’ sagas constitute the rest of the book, starting with an artfully twisted separation in Kabul. Many years later, they will reunite, in California. The first third of the book, which takes place in Afghanistan, I found enchanting, capturing sibling rivalry, brotherly love, and the awfulness of a bad marriage.
I had trouble with the middle of the book, which takes place in Paris and contained just enough inaccurate details to break the spell of the story: 8th graders would not attend a lycée in the 1980s; the Sorbonne is not the only university in Paris. The scenes in Northern California read as much more authentic down to the layout of houses (but the 101? I think not! We do not use articles with the freeways here.) So with that I heartily recommend relishing that perfect beginning!
Big Brother gets one star for its interesting premise: a morbidly obese brother (unemployed and homeless, to boot) arrives at his sister’s house where he is barely recognized since he weighs twice his former, recent weight, breaks furniture unfit for his size, and attempts to get everyone to consume his high-calorie diet. But not more than one star, as the premise fails to develop into a satisfying story. I could see it working in two ways: a heart-warming tale of redemption with lots of finely observed details on the family dynamics or a hilarious high tale where humor overtakes reality without the reader minding one bit. Alas, we get a non-funny but completely unrealistic tale of redemption that turns out to be… a 200-page dream! There are, here and there, well-observed gems, as when fellow Walmart shoppers remark to the heroine (the sister) that, “Ignorance is bliss” while she is buying a heavy-duty scale, but a few gems can’t redeem a derailed story.
The Sibling Effect is a nicely packaged mix of the author’s relationships with his siblings, of which he had many, as he grew up with three brothers and, after his parents’ painful divorce, added and subtracted step-siblings and half-siblings, and a summary of research about birth order and siblings. I liked the autobiographical parts very much, as the author clearly has close relationships with his brothers, speaks of them with great kindness, and tells vivid tales of growing up, from the chaos of small children (complete with games eerily close to the ones I remember my own brother and sister playing) to the dislocation of this mother’s descent into alcoholism, when he and his teenage brothers had to find a way to live on their own.
I found the summary of the research less entrancing. It seemed to rehash some well-known facts in some parts and in others to use anecdotes in lieu of proper research — but perhaps sit simply paled compared to the personal story.
The Last Brother is not a happy story, marrying natural disaster, domestic abuse, and the holocaust, but it’s not depressing, somehow, and it’s not a tearjerker either. It’s the story of a young boy told by the old man he grew into, with all his hopes and regrets, and great love for his dead friend and brothers, and his wonderful mother. Some of the sentences are awkward but it’s hard to tell whether the fault list with the translation — and it doesn’t matter that much, and perhaps you can find the original French version?
The Professor’s Daughter reminded me, in the form of a novel, of One Drop, the memoir of the daughter of a black man and a white woman. The daughter here, Emma, is clearly informed of her black father’s race, but the dads’ careers are similar: first in the family to go to college, followed by recognition as a college dean here, journalist in One Drop. Emma’s story is interleaved with others, including her dad’s, his dad’s, and an odd but tantalizing strand about an Ethiopian woman who married a colleague of her father’s. Unfortunately that last one peters out into strangeness although the character would have deserved a little more. The book is very skillful about weaving different characters, different times, and different stories, but Emma is fairly boring. Her brother, a troubled but potentially brilliant teenager, has a tragic accident in chapter 1 and all the flashbacks don’t suffice to bring back his quirky ways of thinking about life.