Summer Brother


Longlisted for the 2022 Vondel Translation Prize

“Jaap Robben handles delicate, dangerous material with subtlety and sympathy.” ―COLM TÓIBÍN

Thirteen-year-old Brian lives in a trailer on a forgotten patch of land with his divorced and uncaring father. His older brother Lucien, physically and mentally disabled, has been institutionalized for years. While Lucien’s home is undergoing renovations, he is sent to live with his father and younger brother for the summer. Their detached father leaves Brian to care for Lucien’s special needs. But how do you look after someone when you don’t know what they need? How do you make the right choices when you still have so much to discover? Summer Brother is an honest, tender account of brotherly love, which will resonate with readers of Rain Man.

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Publication date

6 May 2021




Jaap Robben

Jaap Robben is a poet, playwright, performer, and acclaimed children’s author. You Have Me to Love, his first novel for adults … Read more

Book Club Questions

  1. What would you say the dominating atmosphere of this novel is? Did you find it heartwarming, tragic, frustrating, all of the above? Why?
  2. What did you feel toward Brian? How do you think he could have been helped?
  3. Do you think Brian’s dad was a good parent? Did you have empathy toward him and his situation? Where do you think he went all day?
  4. What is your opinion of Brian’s mother? How do you think she feels toward Brian?
  5. Do you think Emile was a good influence on Brian? How do you think Brian’s dad should have behaved toward Emile?
  6. How did you feel about Brian lying to his father (over the rent, over his friendship with Emile)? Do you feel this was justified?
  7. How did you feel about Brian’s care for his brother, Lucien? Do you think Lucien was in danger at any point?
  8. How do you think Lucien felt in being removed from his home?
  9. Do you think Brian behaved appropriately toward Selma, or did he take advantage? Do you think the staff of the facility were correct in their reaction?
  10. Do you think the staff at the facility took Lucien’s needs into consideration when they made their decision concerning Brian?
  11. Do you have any thoughts about what Emile may have done to end up in the trailer park? Do you think he deserves his current fate, or is it impossible to know?
  12. What do you think the future holds for each of the characters?
  13. Wasps appear at frequent intervals throughout the story. What, if any, do you think the symbolism of this is?
  14. Can you imagine living, or have you ever lived, in a place such as where Brian lives? What do you think the pros and cons would be of such an environment?
  15. Can you think of a time when a family member who required extra care came to stay and changed the dynamic of your household? Or, can you imagine the impact that such a situation could have, from both perspectives?

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Praise for Summer Brother

“A deeply humane novel centred on a disabled man, his heroic younger brother and an unreliable, partly criminal father living on an all but derelict site. The book is generous to all its flawed characters, is beautifully written, and humanises lives of abject poverty on the edge of squalor and disaster.”

“I just ADORED the novel Summer Brother. Bravo, bravo is what I have to say. It kind of saved me in a way.”
ELIZABETH STROUT, Pulitzer Prize-winning author

“It’s an impressive novel: a deceptively simple story of lives at the margin, with a child’s viewpoint perfectly pitched and sustained, it is cleanly written and powerfully imagined. It reminded me of Claire Keegan’s novella Foster, which has a girl narrator of a similar age, and is an outstanding book. But the challenges are greater here, as Robben deals with all kinds of inflammable material, and does it with such tact and understanding.”

“The central premise of Summer Brother, Jaap Robben’s evocative coming-of-age novel, longlisted for the International Booker prize, is that love can thrive in the unlikeliest of places…It is easy to forget this is a work in translation, so deft is David Doherty’s rendition. Robben depicts the limitations of a dysfunctional family but also celebrates empathy as a force for good.”
The Observer

“Dutch author Jaap Robben’s second novel shows us the shedding of innocence. Summer Brother, translated by David Doherty, shakes out over a hot summer, during that potent lull when characters so splendidly boil, burst and bloom…Summer Brother grapples with the consequences of carelessness and the abuse of power and trust, even if the violation is unintentional…Robben is wonderful at drawing characters with just a few deliberate strokes…Like a photographer shooting a portrait, Robben captures his subjects in Summer Brother in a focused close-up.”
New York Times

“A sensitive yet unsentimental depiction of poverty and disability from the perspective of an abled character.”
Kirkus Reviews

“The book’s language is precise and forthright as Brian observes, and portrays in stark terms, the intense, awkward, and lovely actions of those around him. Sharp exchanges reveal characters who are witty and earnest in equal measure. Summer Brother is a harrowing novel about dysfunctional family dynamics and the universal awkwardness of being a teenager.”
Foreword Reviews

“A tragic tale of generational dysfunction”
Publishers Weekly

Summer Brother is a work of rare intricacy that warrants to be read with all the seriousness one can muster.”
World Literature Today

“Refined and subtle, and at the same time one of the most striking voices in contemporary Dutch literature”
LIZE SPIT, author of The Melting

“A writer who crosses the ball with such elegance that there’s no need to hammer it home.”
De Volkskrant

“Subtle and refined.”
NRC Handelsblad

“Robben’s style is deceptively simple. You don’t have to be an adult to read Summer Brother, yet Robben’s imagery, subtle humor, and surprising plot will connect with the most literate of readers. The novel gives a moving insight into a boyhood that gives pause for reflection.”
De Standaard

“Like no other writer, Robben can empathize with the mind of a child and he imbues the reader with this open and uninhibited outlook as the story unfolds.”

Summer Brother is a wry and funny book about a damaged family.”
Algemeen Dagblad

“Lovingly, Robben shows Brian’s hapless attempts to deal with pills and full diapers, yet all the while he is working mercilessly towards the inevitable climax.”

“A poignant story about loyalty, disloyalty, solidarity, and puberty.”
De Limburger

“A truly gutsy novel.”

Summer Brother is a beautiful, modest novel. As he did with You Have Me to Love, Robben will once again win over a young generation of readers with this book. That in itself is praiseworthy.”

“Jaap Robben has once again written an overwhelming book.”
HMC Dagbladen

“His first novel, You Have Me to Love, was well-received, won prizes, and became a sales success. Summer Brother is a worthy successor and has all the ingredients to follow the same path. Robben knows how to write simply and magnificently―I kept underlining beautiful sentences in the first chapters.”