Brother Alive, by Zain Khalid
In 1990, three boys are born, unrelated but intertwined by circumstance: Dayo, Iseul, and Youssef. They are adopted as infants and share a bedroom perched atop a mosque in one of Staten Island’s most diverse and underserved neighborhoods. The three boys are an inseparable trio, but conspicuous: Dayo is of Nigerian origin, Iseul is Korean, and Youssef indeterminately Middle Eastern. Youssef shares everything with his brothers, except for one secret: he sees a hallucinatory double, an imaginary friend who seems absolutely real, a shapeshifting familiar he calls Brother. Brother persists as a companion into Youssef’s adult life, supporting him but also stealing his memories and shaking his grip on the world.
The boys’ adoptive father, Imam Salim, is known in the community for his stirring and radical sermons, but at home he often keeps himself to himself, spending his evenings in his study with whiskey-laced coffee, reading poetry or writing letters to his former compatriots back in Saudi Arabia. Like Youssef, he too has secrets, including the cause of his failing health and the truth about what happened to the boys’ parents. When, years later, Imam Salim’s path takes him back to Saudi Arabia, the boys, now adults, will be forced to follow. There they will be captivated by an opulent, almost futuristic world, a linear city that seems to offer a more sustainable modernity than that of the West. But this conversion has come at a great cost, and Youssef and Brother too will have to decide if they should change to survive, or try to mount a defense of their deeply-held beliefs.
Stylistically brilliant, intellectually acute, and deft in its treatment of complex themes, Brother Alive is a remarkable debut by a hugely talented writer that questions the nature of belief and explores the possibility of reunion for those who are broken.
Praise for Brother Alive
“Brother Alive is a rigorously intelligent, wholly sensitive, and quietly rebellious work of art, with prose as profound as it is beautiful. What an inspiring examination of the waywardness of life and the grounding of love this story is. What a wise, thoughtful writer Zain Khalid is. What a gift to humanity this book is.” —Robert Jones, Jr.
“A novel with the polish and warmth of a stone smoothed in the hand after a lifetime of loving worry—original, darkly witty, sometimes bitter, and so very wise. And certainly the debut of a major new writer.” —Alexander Chee
“Zain Khalid’s imagination and talent are a marvel to behold in these pages. Brother Alive bristles with a kinetic, hypnotic energy that also manages to ask profound questions about love, faith, family, and loyalty. Hallucinatory and electrifying, Brother Alive announces the arrival of a writer with an impassioned and fearless vision.” —Maaza Mengiste