Older Brother – Mahir Guven
In a highly politicised world, Older Brother is a painfully intense tour de force of fractured hearts and minds. An outstanding novel that is chilling in its capacity to foretell violence, and anxious in its observation of how hardships and marginalisation are propagated amongst hard-working and under-appreciated people. What seems, just, in one person’s eyes can be an affront in another. This book touches on many issues of modern society along with the turmoil and prejudices of immigrants integrating into a new society and culture, and the threat of how that materialises.
The novel is told alternately through the eyes of two brothers – one older and one younger. We are never told their names until the last few pages which I felt maintained the belief that these men could be symptomatic of marginalised Arabs in France but finally jolted with the realisation that a specific identifiable individual did exist.
The two brothers are half French and half Syrian, with their Syrian Father immigrating to France before they were born, and marrying a Breton woman, who has since passed away. The older brother is an Uber taxi driver which puts him into direct conflict with his father who has spent his whole life in France, as a traditional taxi driver now witnessing how this new competition is affecting his livelihood. Ironically each job is precarious and has them working every hour they can. It is tough grinding out a living, trying to integrate into society, fulfilling ambitions and dreams, but it can always get a lot worse.
The younger brother is a hospital nurse, religious, intelligent, but disillusioned that the route for him to be a doctor, was closed. Disillusioned knowing that he possessed capabilities that exceeded the doctors that were respected and paid much higher than he. Disillusioned that he couldn’t put his skills to better use. Eventually, he decides to pursue a humanitarian opportunity in war-torn Syria, without telling his family.
The father and the older brother struggle to comprehend what has happened the younger man: has he fulfilled his ambition to work for a humanitarian agency or has he been caught up in the Muslim conflict as a Jihadi fighter. When he returns home to France after three years, we learn how he had spent his time and what his plans are now he is back in France. The French authorities are also aware of the threat he possesses. The tension rises towards the end of the novel and a dramatic dilemma is waiting to be faced.
This book is unfortunately very indicative of the world we live in today and in particular in France where different Arab cultures struggle along with European culture and the ever-present threat of violent conflict. Older Brother is beautifully written and manages to cloak the novel with an atmosphere of foreboding and gloom. Moments of dark humour add to the multiple layers developed in this complex and compelling novel.
I would recommend reading this book and I’d like to thank Europa Editions and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC version in return for an honest review.