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Buy it now from TLA
I only know Bruno Gmunder’s output from those marvelously
expensive coffee-table books of photography. Naked men in compromising
positions always have a place in my living room, two-dimensional or otherwise.
However, this Swedish novel is a little gem that deserves as much attention as
Gmunder’s more skinworthy projects.
Jonas is a teenager intrigued by the presence of Paul, an
older brother who died before Jonas was born. His investigation leads him to
the discovery of a diary detailing Paul’s relationship with Petr, a Czech
immigrant Paul met in school. Their love affair as well as some startling
revelations about an older family friend named Daniel brings Jonas closer to
his own family as well as the brother he never met.
This deceptively simple and relatively short book is
different from others I’ve read with similar plots in that Jonas does not use
his brother’s sexuality to put his own into context. There is no indication
here that Jonas is himself gay. Nor is he judgmental about Paul and Petr. He is
curious about the brother he will never know, but his curiosity never becomes
prurient. This seemingly small difference brings a refreshing objectivity to
the situation and allows the reader to focus more on Jonas’ search and how he
absorbs that information.
Jonas is fully realized as a character and even his parents
become multi-dimensional—quite an achievement considering how sparely they’re
drawn and how innocuous their conversations seem. The in-depth conversations
are reserved for Daniel, a friend of Jonas’ mother. Only Daniel, who is
gay and was Paul’s confidante, can unlock that part of Paul for Jonas. Although
his version of the story is a bit self-serving, enough solid facts remain for
Jonas to piece together what actually happened between Daniel and Paul as well
as how his affair with Petr progressed.
The symmetrical storyteller in me wants Jonas’ parents to
have this information, and I would have relished a scene in which he tells them
what he’s found out. But perhaps symmetry would not work in this case. Jonas’
search is so personal and so private that keeping the result to himself is only
natural. Revealing them might change Sara and Stefan’s perception of their late
son, which is not his aim. One gets the feeling Jonas will take what he has
learned to his own grave. An atmospheric and interesting read, My Brother
and His Brother is successful on all levels—as art and as entertainment.
And it’ll even look good on your coffee table.
Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler