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Fiction Review Lightning strikes painful familial chords in Uruguay

Older Brother
by Daniel Mella
(Charco Press, £12.99)

EARLY on a February morning in 2014, during a violent summer storm at a beach near Piriapolis in Uruguay, lightning strikes the lifeguard tower where Alejandro is sleeping. It kills the 31-year-old musician and surfer and injures his girlfriend Ana Laura.

What happens next is the focus of this work, part-fiction, part-autobiography, by Uruguayan novelist Daniel Mella, who is Alejandro’s older brother.

His narrative, dwelling on the sudden loss of a sibling, ponders the latter's transient relationships with girls, his love of music, surfing and travelling, along with the abrupt changes his early death brings to their supposedly close-knit family.

It ends on the day the family and friends throw Alejandro's ashes into the sea.

Ingeniously oscillating between flashbacks from the two brothers’ lives and the present reality of mourning, the death of Alejandro has its impact in the past and present and it will trigger unexpected changes in his Mormon family, which has become disenchanted with the sect’s teachings.

“I reproached my parents for being Mormons, for filling my head with all that Mormon shit from the day I was born,” writes Daniel. That therapeutic anger might help him to understand his own life. “I can only start to really write about Alejandro when I start to write about myself,” he deduces.

Molla’s colloquial language, well translated by Megan McDowell, sensitively animates the complex characters, their fragilities, anxieties and sorrows.

The mother, Soledad (Solitude), while obsessively searching Alejandro’s iPhone, makes a dramatic discovery that sets the tone for the final part of the novel and it's a search that leads to painful self-discovery and redemption.

This is the 42-year-old Mella’s third novel and his work is not unlike his great compatriot Juan Carlos Onetti. It demonstrates why he's among the most promising authors on the continent.

 

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