My German Brother

Written by Alison Entrekin (trans.) Chico Buarque
Review by Helene Williams

In 1960s Sao Paulo, Brazil, Ciccio is a troubled teenager: he and his friends steal cars, sleep with girls, and generally disturb the neighborhood. Ciccio’s parents and brother pay little attention to him, as they are focused on their own worlds. For his father, that would be the world of books. Every wall in the house is lined with books, put in a specific, yet undecipherable, order by Ciccio’s mother. One day, while reading The Golden Bough, illicitly borrowed from his father’s library, Ciccio discovers a letter tucked in the pages. The letter is from 1931, sent from Berlin by a woman to Ciccio’s father, and it indicates that he fathered a son while living in Berlin in 1929-1930.

This discovery of a possible half-brother fuels Ciccio’s next decades as he tries to find the facts behind the missive. With the 1964 Brazilian military coup as political background, Ciccio’s family, rather than coming together, disintegrates, yet still he pursues the potential of a German brother.

Based on Buarque’s own discovery of such a letter, this fast-paced narrative captures perfectly the raw emotions and hormones of a teenager in turmoil. Not mature enough to think through consequences, Ciccio and his friends rush into action, whether at the sight of a pretty girl or a political protest. They leap to conclusions—often hilarious, sometimes dangerous—that multiply the narrative threads, so that the reader, like Ciccio, can’t always tell where the truth lies. The lives created by Ciccio, both real and imagined, are engrossing and delightful; the author as well as the translator adeptly keep the language and tone fresh, bringing moments of light and joy to otherwise calamitous circumstances.