Brothers And Sisters Around The World by Andrea Lee, 2000
The magic trick:
The double (triple?) meaning of the title
The title, “Brothers And Sisters Around The World,” is drawn from a moment in the story in which the narrator notices her 4-year-old son’s picture book of the same name. It is, we can imagine, the kind of cornball children’s book that teaches a love for diversity and unity. The sarcasm is evident when compared to the highly regimented social system the narrator describes in her Madagascar surroundings. There’s more to it, though, because the narrator does wind up feeling a sort of kinship with her rivals by story’s end. It’s a very complicated system of social norms and expectations. The children’s book and its emphasis in the title point to the reader to further consider this. And that’s quite a trick on Lee’s part.
I sit up in the water and grab Lele, and kiss him all over while he splashes and struggles to get away. “Yes, that’s right,” I tell him. It’s the firm, didactic voice I use when we’ve turned off the Teletubbies videos and I am playing the ideal parent. “I did hit a lady,” I say. “She needed hitting.” I, the mother who instructs her cross-cultural child in tolerance and nonviolence. Lele has a picture book called “Brothers and Sisters Around the World,” full of illustrations of cookie-cutter figures of various colors, holding hands across continents. All people belong to one family, it teaches. All oceans are the same ocean.