My German Brother: A Novel by Chico Buarque ( translated by Alison Entrekin)

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It wasn’t an arugument between parents, which a child never forgets; rather, it was like a whisper behind a wall, a quick exhange of words that, by rights, I couldn’t have heard, or couldn’t have heard right.

When Ciccio filched a book, The Golden Bough, from his father’s precious, forbidden library he found a letter inside. He can’t read the German words, only understand the beginning and the end. It is written to his father, from a German woman named Anne. He must return the book,  before his mother catches him, the person who tends the library like a garden. The letter will slip from his mind but only for a short time. Then he is off to his friend Thelonious’s house, where they will meet, roam the streets of San Paola, steal a car and slip into the houses of wealthy people. No one loves books as much as his father, whose collection in the end, was over 20,000. Distanced from his father, he spends most of us time getting up to criminal activity, chasing women, hanging with troublesom friends because he gets the same thrill from his antics as his father must get when he opens a book.While coming of age in 1960’s Brazil, his imagined or real half-brother is always haunting the edges of his mind. He spends most of his life trying to understand his father, and missing so much.

Did his father have a child when he worked in Germany, before the Nazi’s took power? Who was his father before he was Ciccio’s dad? Who is Anne? It is in his imagination he attempts to understand what happened during the love affair, where a son (his nameless half-brother) was created? Did his father abandon the woman and child, did she simply give up on him when he married someone else (his mother) and deny him his child?  What of that brother, is he like their father, consumed by books, literature? Ciccio mixes up fact with fiction, even telling his friends he has a German brother, but embellishing the details with fanciful stories. His friend Udo, translates the mysterious communication. Just how close to the truth is he?

His father is an intellectual, Ciccio flirts with it, bragging about the writers his father has met, the signed books. He tries to dig into great literary works, he finds himself during political upheavals amongst students who take part in anti-dictatorship protests (though never one to carry a banner himself, he ‘acquires a taste for it.’) He attempts to nudge his father or mother to reveal tidbits about this German brother, but they never fall for it, and he can’t come right out and ask. Surely his mother must know something, as nothing gets past her, she manages his father’s life, he’d be lost without her. Does she know about the love child?  How could she not, she knows his father better than anyone. He fears his father a little, an aloof man who takes little notice of him, ‘shipwrecked’ in his books, rather than tending to the bonds of his family. His brother Mimmo lives for comic books and soon does voice-overs. His friend gets busted for crimes.Ciccio comes of age, gets better looking, fancies women, but never stops longing for his German brother.

His life becomes a puzzle, he is just as consumed with this phantom brother as his father is by his literature. The novel is fiction flavored with the autobiography of its author (be sure to read the Author’s Note). The ending itself is tender, ‘ And perhaps my eyes will mist over as they fix on the black and white image…’.  Toward his mother’s end, she let’s slip her own comment that confirms she knew everything. It was an engaging novel, about the curious sins of the father and while focused on the mystery of Sergio (his half-brother), Mimmo( the only brother he shared his life with) slips through Ciccio’s fingers. Years pass and with age some questions are answered while others remain.

Publication Date: June 12, 2018

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

 

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