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Banlieue Boys

Author: May Jeong
Newspaper: Airmail
Date: Oct 7 2019

Older Brother opens with a line that echoes Albert Camus (“Mother died today”) and, more recently, Leïla Slimani (“The baby is dead”): “Death is the only true thing.” That specter of death looms large over the entirety of the slim volume, which is set in the Parisian banlieues and shifts between the perspectives of an older brother, a soldier turned Uber driver, and a younger brother, an inner-city nurse turned humanitarian worker.

By the time we meet the two brothers, their mother has long been dead. The older brother jokes about dying from the boredom of his job, wonders about jumping off the balcony where he smokes, and fantasizes about his getaway car flipping on the highway, down to the detail of a friend reading about his untimely death in the papers the morning after.

The younger brother works at a local hospital, assisting with sutures and other surgeries. He too is bored, enduring “each day as if in a half-coma, aware that life was going on without me,” and dreaming of devoting himself to something larger than himself. He gets his chance when a humanitarian NGO called Islam & Peace, working with Doctors Without Borders and the Red Cross, takes him on to work in war-torn Syria.