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Brother Alive by Zain Khalid


 

Xolo Score 3.75/5

 

Brother Alive follows adopted brothers Youssef, Iseul, and Dayo growing up in Staten Island with their guardian Imam Salim. Youssef frequently hallucinates a shape-shifting presence named Brother lurking in their home and trailing Youssef like an ominous shadow. As the boys reach adolescence, Salim grows increasingly erratic, writing mysterious letters to old friends and conducting secret late-night experiments. When the imam suddenly abandons the boys in New York, they follow him to their birthplace, a rapidly gentrifying Saudi metropolis. A coming-of-age novel saturated in a critique of dogma, politics, and hypocritical ideologies, Brother Alive isn’t afraid to explore the darkest corners of a family’s past, present, and future.

 

*** SPOILERS AHEAD ***

 

In Brother Alive main character Youssef’s coming-of-age story mixes with the complexities of his and Imam Salim’s closeted sexuality. As Muslim men who equate their importance with their religion, Youssef and Salim have endured much pain and self-loathing. And independently seek redemption without ever reaching for the love and validation they desperately need but refuse to accept.


Like many immigrants, Youssef grows up in a country and a community so different from his family’s and struggles to find a place for himself. Although he is engaged in politics, literature, and culture, he cannot fully connect with a system or institution. Ultimately, finding comfort in the Brother, the shape-shifting shadow that grows stronger the more Youssef dissociates with his reality out of self-preservation, makes Youssef a passive participant in his own life.


Yousef and his brothers’ mission in Saudi Arabia exposes harsh similarities between their capitalistic adoptive country and the militant Islam of their home country. Both thrive on the all-encompassing dogmas on the backs of the oppressed working class. More deceptive, the boys find, are their liberal parallels: watered-down, corporate-friendly ideologies pushing limp diversity initiatives in place of a human rights agenda. The hypocrisies that saturate Khalid’s novel can often be lost if the reader is not immediately familiar with the geopolitics of both countries and their people.


Although dense at times, Brother Alive is a profound novel about fathers, sons, and the love that fuels their revenge.


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