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brother in the land by Robert Swindells

  (59 ratings)

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Book Information  
AuthorRobert Swindells
Titlebrother in the land
Book Reviews / Comments (submitted by readers)
Submitted by initial_D 
(Mar 08, 2007)

By the time I read this sentence, I wasn’t even shocked. At this stage of the story, the reader is pretty much resigned to the futility of the situation and no, you won’t find a happy ending.

But I have started at the end here and most of you are probably lost by now, so let me explain…

Those of us of a certain age will remember Threads – the shocking film, which depicted the effects of a nuclear bomb hitting an English city. Brother in the Land is almost the book equivalent.

Danny Lodge is an ordinary lad. He lives in Skipley with his parents and younger brother, Ben. They own a shop. They are a normal family. They lead a normal life. Or at least, they do until important people far away decide to launch nuclear missiles at each other.

Suddenly their lives are completely changed. They are living in a world that not only looks different, but it has hidden dangers too as the levels of radiation penetrate everything, killing slowly. There are few intact buildings, few animals and only a few hundred survivors. But are they really the lucky ones?

As the Skipley community – what remains of it – survive as best they can, they cling on to the government brochure which promised them help if the worst ever happened. But when people do arrive, they turn up in armoured vehicles, brandishing guns and wearing fall-out protection suits. What is it they are promising now? Would you trust them? Do you have a choice?

The majority of the novel concentrates on the aftermath and how the survivors cope. This threw up all sorts of questions in my head and made me pursue lines of thought I hadn’t previously explored. The book itself paints a picture of new groups or the re-emergence of old ones. Even when it seems obvious for people to group together, divisions emerge. Who takes charge and why? What are their motives? If you have limited food, would you feed everyone for a month or your own family for a year? Do you feed the sick and dying at all?

There are optimistic parts to the story – love survives, families look after one another, new friendships are made, people work together. But survival also brings out the worst in people and we see ruthlessness, selfishness, and a developed society reverting to pre-Neanderthal behaviour.

The new society creates a new vocabulary. People become labelled with names, which dehumanise them. So we have Spacers, Badgers, Goths and Purples. These labels enable others to treat them in ways, which would have been previously unacceptable. If they are an enemy species, it becomes easier to shoot them down in cold blood.

The bomb itself takes up only a small part of the book, but I think these early chapters were the most shocking. Being anti-war myself, these scenes reminded me why. You know the way we sometimes watch the News, shake our heads at politicians and are sure we are the ones with the right answers, the sensible solutions? This book convinced me. It often seems that world leaders get carried away on a tide, that they get swept up in a torrent and hurled away towards one side or another. The recent war in Iraq was a case in point. Sometimes I was sure Blair and Bush must have been scratching their heads and thinking “How did we get here?” Well, Blair anyway.

The novel is not only a good story and one which needs to be told, but the book has so many dimensions to it that it is these questions raised which will ultimately stay with you, longer than the memory of Danny and his family. Although the story is a tragic one, I didn’t find myself reduced to tears as I have been with other books – The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis being the most recent example. I am not sure whether this is because the characters in Brother in the Land were less well developed or whether I have become desensitised to this kind of thing, thanks to a diet of live news reports from war-torn countries. I hope it’s the former.

The novel is short at only 150 pages and is easy to read, although not an easy read – if you see what I mean. I finished the whole book in a day, which was also helped by the chapters being very short and the desire to know what would happen next.

The book is marketed as teenage fiction and won awards in this genre following its publication in 1984. It did not feel like a book that was too young for me though, it does not use an overly simple vocabulary or ‘dumbed down’ in any way, it is just seen through the eyes of a teenage boy – but one we all come to relate to, especially as his role becomes very similar to that of a parent.

Brother in the Land is certainly not bedtime reading for your seven-year-old, but older children should read it. I am going to recommend it to my eleven year old son who spent half of the war in Iraq shouting “No more war!” and the other half proclaiming the solution would be to “Nuke ‘em!” I don’t think any reader of this book would utter that phrase again, only with utter disgust. On a larger scale, books like these make teenagers think and hopefully, they might help future generations to be less trigger-happy than our present day leaders.

Thanks to Andrea (tange) for writing her review of this book, which led me to borrow it from the library and read it myself.

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