Forbidden to touch his father's books, Ciccio sneaks off with The Golden Bough one day to discover a decades-old letter hidden inside. The letter reveals an illicit affair his father carried on while posted in Nazi-era Berlin, an affair that resulted in the birth of a baby boy. The child, along with his mother, vanished into the chaos of the Second World War. Ciccio develops a fascination for his mysterious German brother: a fixation that becomes a mission, both comical and courageous, pursued over decades, through dead ends and embarrassments and cases of mistaken identity.
...Ciccio’s search for this long-lost half-brother becomes a lifelong obsession, bringing him into contact with Brazil’s sprawling community of German expats and summoning the manifold horrors of the war years ... Meanwhile, Brazil is generating its own horrors. Ciccio’s full brother, Mimmo, a louche ladies’ man but hardly a dissident, falls in with the wrong crowd and is 'disappeared' by the military government. The twin absences blend together, forming a void that Ciccio fills with books, music, women and increasingly lunging efforts to discover the fates of his missing siblings ... Mr. Buarque combines documentary records with imaginative leaps into the unlit recesses of history. Just as ghosts mingle with their survivors, fact bleeds into fiction to create a book of potent emotional force.
This discovery of a possible half-brother fuels Ciccio’s next decades as he tries to find the facts behind the missive. With the 1964 Brazilian military coup as political background, Ciccio’s family, rather than coming together, disintegrates, yet still he pursues the potential of a German brother ... Based on Buarque’s own discovery of such a letter, this fast-paced narrative captures perfectly the raw emotions and hormones of a teenager in turmoil. Not mature enough to think through consequences, Ciccio and his friends rush into action, whether at the sight of a pretty girl or a political protest. They leap to conclusions—often hilarious, sometimes dangerous—that multiply the narrative threads, so that the reader, like Ciccio, can’t always tell where the truth lies. The lives created by Ciccio, both real and imagined, are engrossing and delightful; the author as well as the translator adeptly keep the language and tone fresh, bringing moments of light and joy to otherwise calamitous circumstances.
Autobiographical fiction which follows protagonist Ciccio de Hollander’s mission to track down a long-lost brother Sergio ... The story is woven in with the displacement of WWII, through leftist disappearances during Brazil’s military dictatorship, and into the modern age of social media ... My German Brother delivers a tragic account of a man who outsources his sense of self and uses literature as a social tool rather than as a form of human discovery. Yet if Buarque was aware of this estrangement, he does not directly condemn his protagonist in the text, rarely succumbing to self-criticism or self-reflection. The novel is matter-of-fact in its account of historical events, not batting an eye at the disappearances of the protagonist’s best friend and brother at the hands of the military dictatorship. From reflection on the text, whether or not it is Buarque’s intention, arises a question of what is lost in emotional dissociation.