My rating: 2 stars
To write O Irmão Alemão, My German Brother in the English translation, the Brazilian author and singer-songwriter Chico Buarque drew inspiration from his family history. When he was 22 years old, Buarque discovered that his father had had a son while living in Germany. Nevertheless, the story in this book is mostly fictional. The premise is full of potential – the narrator wants to discover what happened to his German brother. Unfortunately, the execution is nothing but disappointing, since the characters don’t feel real and the writing style is not absorbing.
Francisco de Hollander, the narrator of the book, once found in one of his father’s books a letter from a German woman, Anne Ernst, dated from December 1931. His father had lived in Berlin between 1929 and 1930, before he got married, and in the past Francisco had also overheard a conversation about him having another son in Germany. He finally had confirmation of the existence of this brother when Udo, a friend of his friend Thelonious, translated for him the letter he had unearthed.
Afterwards he became fixated with discovering what had happened to his German brother. While looking for clues, he came up with possible theories for various events. Throughout the book, there is a mix of reality and conjecture, which are occasionally so blend in with one another that it’s difficult to discern which is which.
The pacing of the book is exasperating. The narrator spends too many pages focusing on the women his full brother slept with, which can only be described as an unhealthy obsession, for example, and then just mentions in passing, without proper development, interesting and relevant events, making it difficult to connect with the characters. The novel also feels too disjointed, as many years can pass between scenes, sometimes even within the same chapter.
After finishing reading My German Brother, I felt that Chico Buarque missed an opportunity to write an affecting and intriguing story. Though the narrator and his father shared a love for books, they seemed to have had a distant relationship, an issue that is never fully explored. Moreover, the ending is in no way impactful.