Cover image for Two brothers : the fourth song
Two brothers : the fourth song
Atxaga, Bernardo.
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Dos hermanos. English
Publication Information:
London : Harvill Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
117 pages ; 21 cm
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An elegiac tale of lost innocence and the ruthlessness of the natural world, where the hunter all too soon becomes the prey. As he dies leaving his two boys orphans, Paulo's father lays on him the duty to look after his retarded but overgrown younger brother, for otherwise Daniel will be put away in an institution. But Daniel never listens to his brother, who is unable to exert any authority over him. Instead Daniel, aged twenty and still in the throes of puberty, goes off in an inept, fumbling pursuit of the village girls, as they ride past on their bicycles on the way to sewing lessons or cake-baking classes. Among these girls are pretty Teresa and her plain friend, Carmen, a girl disfigured by a birthmark on one cheek. Both of them are sweet on Paulo, the quiet, irresolute but handsome lad who works in the family sawmill, while Teresa is the reluctant, indeed disgusted, object of Daniel's dreams. Each girl schemes to cut the other out and win favour with Paulo. All ends in tears. And the narrators of this story, who take turns to continue the tale, are creatures of the wild, driven by their inner voices - a bird, squirrels, a black snake.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Impelled to observe the protagonists by "a voice that comes from deep within ourselves," a bird, a squirrel, a snake, a star, and a wild goose narrate Basque writer Atxaga's folktalelike novella. They unfold the story of how a promise works out. His dying father implores 16-year-old Paulo to make watching his older, retarded brother, Daniel, his first priority. The boy obeys, but because he also replaces his father in the family business, he can't always shepherd Daniel, whose great size and dawning sexuality make him hard to handle and a threatening presence to the local girls. Moreover, Paulo's scheming cousin Carmen, whom we learn is responsible for his father's death, manipulates pretty, shy Teresa, who moons over Paulo, into inflaming Daniel's lust. Death stalks the tale, as several of the narrators come to their ends before the final tragedy, which is mitigated only by a transmigratory form of afterlife. A weighty drama of good and evil delivered with the lightness of a Mozart aria. --Ray Olson

Publisher's Weekly Review

The mating dance turns into a hunting game in Atxaga's dark parable, which begins when the father of two postpubescent Basque boys, Daniel and Paolo, suddenly dies. Paolo, the younger, is charged with the task of taking care of his 20-year-old retarded brother, but the reclusive boy, a sawmill worker, runs into problems when Daniel's sexual urges surface. A pretty young girl named Teresa begins offering him cake, hoping she can use Daniel to get access to his handsome 16-year-old brother, and is aided in her quest by the boys' spiteful cousin, Carmen. When their plan fails to draw out Paolo, they scheme to get Daniel to enter a bike race in the local fiesta, a plan that backfires when Daniel ends up attacking the boy who wins the race. But there's much more to this story than the sexual and romantic dodging and weaving between boys and girls Atxaga's narrators are the animals and spirits who live in and around the village: a bird, the local squirrels, a star, a duplicitous snake and finally a goose whose attack on the snake parallels Daniel's violent outburst. The mysterious voice that drives the actions of the animals lends a dark, totemic angle to this strange but beguiling yarn, which maintains an undeniable appeal despite a murky tragic ending. Atxaga, a Basque author who has written novels, plays and children's books, brings an intriguing voice of his own as well as a talent for unexpected twists and turns; this book should whet the appetites of American readers for more of his work. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved