Brother Alive

Honoree, 5 Under 35 2024

book cover for Brother Alive, by Zain Khalid
ISBN 9780802159762
Grove Press / Grove Atlantic
author photo of Zain Khalid. (Photo credit: Roxana Kadyrova)
Zain Khalid

Zain Khalid is an American writer and novelist from New York. His debut novel, Brother Alive, won the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Fiction Award and the Community of Literary Magazines & Presses’ Firecracker Award for Fiction, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Prize for Best First Book, and was shortlisted for the Ursula K. Le Guin Prize for Fiction. More about this author >

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From the publisher:

In 1990, three boys are born, unrelated but intertwined by circumstance: Dayo, Iseul, and Youssef. They are adopted as infants and live in a shared bedroom perched atop a mosque in one of Staten Island’s most diverse and precarious neighborhoods, Coolidge. The three boys are an inseparable if conspicuous trio: Dayo is of Nigerian origin, Iseul is Korean, and Youssef indeterminately Middle Eastern. Nevertheless, Youssef is keeping a secret: he sees a hallucinatory double, an imaginary friend who seems absolutely real, a shapeshifting familiar he calls Brother.

The boys’ adoptive father, Imam Salim, is known for his radical sermons, but at home he is often absent, spending long evenings in his study with whiskey-laced coffee, writing letters to his former compatriots back in Saudi Arabia. Like Youssef, he too has secrets, including the cause of his failing health and the truth about what happened to the boys’ parents. When Imam Salim’s path takes him back to Saudi Arabia, the boys will be forced to follow. There they will be captivated by an opulent, almost futuristic world, a linear city that seems to offer a more sustainable modernity than that of the West. But they will have to change if they want to survive in this new world, and the arrival of a creature as powerful as Brother will not go unnoticed.