"When Brother Dies" is a brilliantly brilliant debut

Emilia Aalto writes unbearably painfully about when the system fails

Emilia Aalto (born 1989) works with university of applied sciences courses and freelances as a lecturer. “When brother dies” is her debut.

When brother dies. Even the title testifies to the inevitable, the prophecy that will most certainly come true. But how do you write about death? And a whole life leading up to the inevitable end?

Emilia Aalto grows up in Angered with parents in a dysfunctional relationship, but this is the story of her brother. On the same day he dies, she creates a document in the computer, writes in sheer desperation not to forget his life. About the poet Jacques Robaud struck dumb by his mother’s death, the words flow from Aalto. There is a concern to encapsulate the whole precious, important person who is now gone.

With words like stacked on top of each other in short lines, this is a poetic novel, perhaps it should be called a poem, and at first it stops the reading. But as soon as the reader chooses to give in to the pithy, urgent, short, it takes off at breakneck speed. Because it is precisely the simple and concise that makes “When Brother Dies” such a brilliant debut. The images shine like pomegranate seeds in a dark, empty world.

my brother gives me//a horizon to look towards//his is cloudy//maybe even extinguished//so he gets in the way//I can’t see it’s black//then he dresses up for the sun// for me

The brother is exposed, alone and fragile in the face of the world’s threats, has no predecessor who can stand in the way of the darkness. He ends up in an addiction, in and out of treatment centers, is robbed and takes overdoses. Through the little sister’s eyes, we see his black leather jacket and cigarettes, his debts to the Bailiff, his music and tender words and sudden anger. Unlike the poet Natalie Diazwho in the poems likened his brother to Judas, the minotaur and Bruce LeeAalto’s brother is allowed to be just that: a brother.

That’s how it happens. Brother dies. The system has failed. And no one wants to take responsibility. The reading becomes blurred, penetrating, unbearable.

it’s a special//form of loneliness//no longer//finding my brother’s gaze//heavenly//at all this madness

But even here the bureaucracy intrudes. Because this is also a story about our unsustainable social system, where there is no room for emotion, and where our siblings are constantly falling through the cracks and being forgotten. The Social Insurance Agency shuts the family back and forth, even the funeral must not become a place for grieving. As a reader, you are constantly forced to stop in grief and let the administration in. The beautiful and the ugly both manage to take up so much space that I am left with equal parts disgust for the system, and longing to one day be able to taste the taste of strawberries, despite the sadness.

“You can not write about a person who is as vulnerable as my brother without loving that person,” says Emilia Aalto herself about her debut. I would like to rephrase it: You cannot write in such a true and brilliant way about such a vulnerable person without loving that person.

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Peggy McColl

Mentor l NY Times Bestselling Author. Hi, I'm Peggy McColl, and I'm here to deliver a positive message to you!

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