As an exploration of the capricious nature of truth and perception surrounding relationships and personal experiences of life-shaping events, MY BROTHER’S BOOK is an absorbing read.
Rich in detail, thick with emotion and pierced through with thought-provoking philosophy, the story meanders through the lives of siblings, Lily and Tom.
From their nomadic childhood in the Eastern Cape with their charismatic, but often absent, father Pop, the author paints an accurate picture of the paradox of apartheid South Africa. The optimistic Lily drifts through a poor but halcyon childhood, leaving all the work and the worrying to the complex, serious Tom, who slowly becomes aware of the socio-political injustices that surround him.
Inevitably, Lily’s bubble must burst. The tragedy lies in that she brings about her own downfall: left out of the developing closeness between Tom and his girlfriend Miranda, Lily carelessly betrays her brother. Once before, Lily hadn’t liked it when Tom’s attention had turned to a romantic interest. Then, there had been no serious repercussions. This time, though, her pique condemns her beloved brother and protector to 12 years in an apartheid prison.
30 years later, Tom—now a white liberal struggle hero in the newly democratic South Africa—writes about his perceptions of that time. Both Lily and Miranda challenge that perception and, through their differing viewpoints, we come to understand and sympathise with each of the characters and their personal “truths.”
Lily and Tom’s story becomes a metaphor for the whites in apartheid South Africa itself. Lily, the average white South African whose childish innocence (blindness?) carried an unbearable price for others. Tom, the tormented visionary who buried his own needs in the desperate needs of others. And Miranda, a bridge between Lily’s naïve lack of awareness and Tom’s ruthless (and somewhat self-righteous) drive to achieve social justice for the oppressed.
As Lily’s desperate need to atone for her betrayal uncovers Tom’s deep emotional wounds, both old and new, she discovers a fundamental truth about their past that utterly undercuts all their previous perceptions, and therein lies their hope for redemption.
Although set firmly in South Africa, with much of the slang and descriptions uniquely South African, the ultimate power of this story rests in its universal themes. MY BROTHER’S BOOK tells a gentle and stirring tale of love and betrayal, loss and hope, and of the enduring bonds between past, present and future on both an individual and collective level of society.
Richards, with exquisite sensitivity and impartiality, uses the lives and loves of Lily and Tom to explore the political issues of the old and recent past in South Africa. Her unerring eye for the way in which “truth” is both malleable and dependent on whose perception conveys this “truth” adds an intricate layer of meaning that turns MY BROTHER’S BOOK from an interesting, entertaining tale into a book that demands to be read over and over again.