This story can be read here in The New Yorker.
First Line: "Musa was my older brother."
Last Line: "It was the nineteen-fifties; the Frenchwomen wore short, flowered dresses, and the sun bit at their breasts."
Kamel Daoud wrote a novel, a "response" to Albert Camus's The Stranger, creating a brother for Camus's murdered Arab: Haroun. This piece in The New Yorker is drawn from that novel.
The story is about the grief of a widow, a mother bereft of one of her sons. It is also the story of the remaining son, Haroun. He has lost a father and the brother he saw as a god. He has also lost his mother.
The title reflects the name of the brother, but he is dead. He is a ghost with a decided influence. This is the tale of the living. Haroun and his mother. Their relationship is complicated, saddening and unhealthy. He says, "for us, a mother is half the world. But I’ve never forgiven her for the way she treated me."
She punished him for resisting death and the grief she chose: martyrdom.
I found this story to be heavy and I was anxious to put it down. It was not a load I wanted to carry or a path I wanted to share with Haroun for too long.
It was beautifully written. There was vivid imagery and poignant lyricism, but it was lengthy. Even though the plot followed a linear path, it also rambled and seemed scattered - like trying to pin down memories to allow them to unfold.
Taking place in Algiers during the 1930s to 1950s, the descriptions of the time and space were transportive. I could smell the spices. I could feel the heat. I could taste the sea and the dirt in the air. I was engulfed in a tight and festering relationship and could see how it represented their relationship to their country as well.
I just didn't feel comfortable there. I was glad when I was done reading, but I was grateful for the experiences that come to us only in reading.
I'll leave you with a line that I enjoyed from the story:
"Books gradually enabled me to name things, to organize the world with my own words."
Stories tell truth, in our own words.