“The Silent Brother” by Simon Van der Velde

This is one of the most moving and emotional books I have reviewed recently. It is not often pleasant, it is rarely optimistic, and it is certainly not a fun read, but as a journal of the existence many of the less fortunate members of our society live through, it is unparalleled.

The “silent brother” in this story is not just a lost sibling. It is a metaphor for all the emotions and malformed ideas in an abuse victim’s head, which is where the whole story takes place. And when it comes to abuse, this tale has it all: child, sexual, emotional, physical and social. To give you an idea, the first part of the story involves the two young boys helping their mother’s abusive boyfriend hide them from the social workers. Tommy, the main character, has a strong sense of what is right, but it is warped by such experiences. Benjie is discovered and taken but Tommy is not, and everything goes downhill from there for a very long time.

Which is to explain the complexity of the main character’s thoughts. Although they start out as the maunderings of a four-year-old, he grows older throughout the story, and we get a clearer picture of his situation. However, confused by the stimulation of his terrible social landscape and wracked by survivor guilt, he finds it difficult to get his life straightened around the way he knows it should be.

The emotion the author uses to keep us immersed in this appalling situation is hope. No matter how bad things get, there is always the possibility that Tommy will come through in the end, and even the dream that he will still deserve whatever good luck he encounters.

Because there is a silver lining to the horrible storm that has encompassed his life; he escapes into his art. You don’t see much of it at first; his guilt causes him to keep it hidden, so it is disguised from the reader as well.

The other theme, the one that plays counterpoint to the horror, is the idea that the grand sum of an artist’s experience adds up to his personality and his talent. His upbringing and environment made him what he is for better and for worse, and if he can rescue his humanity from the damage, he can let his emotions soar with his art.

Once you have read this book, you no longer wonder how these broken people could reach those depths. You have seen it happen in front of your eyes, laid out in painful, painstaking detail. But you have also been given the key to the solution: love and art. And that makes the difficult reading worthwhile.

A deep insight in frightening detail into the mind of an abuse victim, and the redeeming power of love in any of its manifestations.  Highly recommended for fans of fine, evocative writing,

 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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