This adaptation of a highly respected Brazilian novel (Dois Irmãos or The Brothers by Milton Hatoum) is a classic piece of generational storytelling. Set in a well-to-do family home in Manaus, the story revolves around the two titular brothers, twins called Omar and Yaqub, who are physically identical except for the white streak that runs through the hair of the slightly older Yaqub.
The brothers start off as great friends, a blessing to their family. But a squabble over a girl as they become teenagers ends in a violent episode that leaves the younger twin, Omar, scarring his brothers face. This pivotal incident, followed by one of the brothers being sent away by his father while the other stays at home following pressure from his mother, pushes a wedge between the brothers that only deepens and further divides them over time. While Yaqub is away furthering his education in Lebanon, Omar stays at home, lazily festering. The distance between them leaves them both bitter, however, and the black cloud of sibling rivalry turned sour hangs heavy over their future.
The household relationship is further complicated. The boy’s parents initially adopt a girl from a local orphanage, who grows up to become their housekeeper. They also have a daughter of their own before the boys are born. Even the parents’ relationship, which starts in the heat of passion, changes as they grow older and their father’s patriarchal significance wanes as the boys grow. It’s a fascinating generational work that shines a harsh spotlight on the way families treat each other and those around them.
The illustration is simple pen and ink work, with the complexity coming through the masterful play of light and contrast. The characters are brimming with character, springing into life from the page. You get the overwhelming impression that Moon and Ba, themselves twin brothers from Brazil, aren’t just illustrating these characters but feeling their pains and tribulations, like artistic method actors.
Two Brothers is much more than the sum of its parts: an already well-respected story, beautifully adapted and illustrated with a reverence that clearly pays off. The end result is a work of beauty, despite the difficult content of a family in strife, that’s well worth investing your money and time into.