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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 584

Written in a singsong prose style heavy with repetition, My Brother chronicles without pause or respite the ebb and flow of Devon Drew’s illness and death from acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Drew, the youngest of three brothers, is the half brother of the memoir’s author, Jamaica Kincaid. The two share a mother, Mrs. Drew, but they have different fathers. They also live very different lives. Drew, a man in his thirties, lives with his mother in Antigua. Kincaid, who is thirteen years older, lives in Vermont with her own children. She is an international best-selling and critically acclaimed author, while Drew has no job, dreams of being a musician, and occasionally steals from his own brothers. Even his language does not sound like her language.

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In her earlier works, A Small Place (1988) and The Autobiography of My Mother (1996), Kincaid found abundant fault with both motherhood and her motherland. In My Brother, she again grapples with both, as she returns to Antigua to fulfill familial obligations. Kincaid struggles with herself, asking if she loves her brother. She struggles with her mother, a woman who loves her children not well but too much. She struggles with an Antiguan culture that isolates its AIDS patients and waits for them to waste away in lonely squalor. She struggles with her dying brother Devon, a man who rejects her values, questions her motives, and pursues his pleasures at his own peril.

Devon’s life is devoted to sex, drugs, and reggae. A Rastafarian, he smokes “the weed” daily and occasionally uses cocaine. His family members believe that he has contracted the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) through heterosexual sex. Devon often boasts to his sister that he “loves the girls.” Enabling this lifestyle, Mrs. Drew wants only to comfort her baby boy, and she displays every ounce of motherly devotion. All of her sons live under her roof. It is only when her children show signs of independence—when her children need her not physically but only morally—that she, as the author argues repeatedly, reveals herself to be a poor mother.

Antiguans have no access to azidothymidine (AZT) or any other powerful drugs capable of allaying the AIDS virus. They take a fatalistic approach to the disease, failing to see the point of prolonging a life that cannot be saved. Only limited resources are expended to help those who seem able to recover. People dying of AIDS are shunned, tended only by their families. Devon’s friends never visit him.

Fighting this endemic denial is Dr. Prince Ramsey; a man Kincaid is surprised to find in Antigua. With his encouragement and help, Kincaid buys her brother added years of life, importing AZT and other drugs from the United States. The drugs cause Devon to make a seemingly miraculous recovery. Antiguan doctors, however, do not know what to do with a recovering AIDS patient; they have never had one before.

Thanks to his sister’s generosity, Devon goes home to his mother—and to his old, self-destructive way of life. Devon has unprotected sex, and he doubts whether he even really had AIDS. He certainly never tells anyone that he is HIV-positive. It is only after Devon’s death that Kincaid learns the truth about her brother: He was bisexual, hiding his sexual orientation from even his closest friends and family. This discovery saddens Kincaid the most—not because her brother was gay, but because he could never be free to be himself. His life was a lie.

Historical Context

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 510

Antigua is a small West Indian island, twelve miles long and nine miles wide. Christopher Columbus arrived in Antigua in 1493, and he named the tiny island after the Church of Santa Maria de la Antigua in Sevilla, Spain. Soon after,...

(The entire section contains 2315 words.)

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