Mary Beth Writes

10/13/2021

“Brotherhood” by Mohamed Mbougar Sarr is the most compelling novel I’ve read this year. I read the first half as if I was reading a book for the first time; it felt as if the writer was expressing a story so powerful he called it fiction just to get it out, to me, to us. 

I skimmed the second half because I was exhausted by the impossible trauma and decisions the characters would need to endure and try to survive.

Let me say right here than many will survive. Not all.

This synopsis is from Europa Editions. This is the URL   

“This novel takes place in the imaginary town of Kalep, where a fundamentalist Islamist government has spread its brutal authority.

Under the regime of the so-called Brotherhood, two young people are publicly executed for having loved each other. In response, their mothers begin a secret correspondence, their only outlet for the grief they share and each woman’s personal reckoning with a leadership that would take her beloved child’s life.

At the same time, spurred on by their indignation at what seems to be an escalation of The Brotherhood’s brutality, a band of intellectuals and free-thinkers seeks to awaken the conscience of the cowed populace and foment rebellion by publishing an underground newspaper. While they grapple with the implications of what they have done, the regime’s brutal leader begins a personal crusade to find the responsible parties and bring them to his own sense of justice.”

Mohamed Mbougar Sarr was born in Dakar, Senegal in 1990. French is his first language; this book was translated into English recently. Sarr studied literature and philosophy in Paris.

The Brotherhood is an Islamist organization that overtook the fictional African city in which the story happens. The leader of the military is utterly devout and utterly confident that he is saving people from slipshod western ways. He and his military underlings patrol the town continually for people who are not acting purely. The book begins with the executions of the young lovers. There will be more instances of brutality. These incidents are not overwritten, the point of the novel is not to scare us, but to invite us to belong to people who don’t know how to get their good and stable lives back.

This is the question that kept me turning the pages. We don’t live in that brutality, but most of us are fearful for what could happen, for what seems to sometimes be happening in dribs and drabs around us. Our sassy and beloved freedoms are eroding in the name of purity and power. 

This chilling description of people giving up communicating.

I found this curious and powerful. That when one is under extreme pressure and duress – where can we and should we turn? These brave characters, after weeks of discussion, decide to publish a journal. Do we underestimate our power to affect our communities through writing and reading?

For anyone who has lost a child. This line. “I feel like I’m carrying him inside me a second time.”

What interesting statements. People are dangerous and unpredictable and people are our only recourse.  

I feel as if I sat in a master class of humans who thought hard and risked so much to find ways to oppose oppression.

 

 

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Leonard's picture

I have been reading de Tocqueville, which is maybe the nerdiest thing I've done in quite a while. He wrote about the United States in 1835, and he was very perceptive about what would make the US succeed, and potentially fail, as a democracy. A lot of what he says is contradictory, including the idea that people always push back against a dictator ... but when one group has an opinion not shared by another group, the group in the minority will push back against the majority with all the hatred and rebellious energy as if the majority were a dictator. Kind of like what's going on now.

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