Two brothers. Two narrators. Two type fonts: serif for "The Older Brother" chapters; sans serif for "The Younger Brother." Their family has shrunk as Mahir Guven's debut, Older Brother, begins: "...there's only two of us left," the older brother reveals, referring to their acerbic father and himself. The younger brother "has f**ked off to the middle of the desert," their mother is dead, her mother also dead, the father's mother in a nursing home. Once upon a time, the father was an international student from Syria who fell in love with a local French (Breton, specifically) student; they married and had two sons. Some three decades later, the father, despite his (unspecified) doctorate, is a disgruntled taxi driver, hoping to soon retire after 20-plus years navigating Paris streets. That his older son drives for Uber is nothing short of betrayal. The younger brother, once a hospital nurse and convinced "the world was calling out to [him] for help," answered by volunteering with a medical NGO to serve in their ancestral Syrian homeland--and disappeared. After three silent years, the younger brother returns, burdened more with disturbing questions than believable answers.
Awarded the 2018 Prix Goncourt for a debut novel and translated by PEN Translation Prize finalist Tina Kover, Older Brother affectingly mines Guven's own experiences of being stateless, as the French-born son of Turkish and Iraqi refugees. His dual protagonists are also perennial outsiders, their relentlessly questioned status magnified in a Paris still nervous after terrorist attacks on Charlie Hebdo and Bataclan. Despite such gravity, Guven is a sly, ingenious storyteller, infusing black humor and biting wit throughout. His epilogue proves to be a jaw-dropping sleight-of-hand. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon