Astonishing. Brilliant. Profound.
  • Brother Alive
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Brother Alive

Zain Khalid

New York Times Writer to Watch

Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Prize


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 a conspicuous trio: Dayo is of Nigerian origin, Iseul is Korean, and Youssef indeterminately Middle Eastern, but they are so close as to be almost inseparable. Nevertheless, Youssef is keeping a secret from his brothers: he has an imaginary double, a familiar who seems absolutely real, a shapeshifting creature he calls Brother. Brother is both a balm for the young boy and a curse—he provides solace to Youssef but demands information in exchange.

The boys’ adoptive father, Imam Salim, is popular in the community, known for his radical sermons extolling the virtues of opting out of Western ideologies. But he is uncharismatic at home, a distant father who spends 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, the reason for his nighttime excursions from the house, 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, and will find traces of their parents’ stories. 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.

About the Author

Zain Khalid has been published in the New Yorker, the Believer, the Los Angeles Review of BooksMcSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, and elsewhere. He has also written for television. Brother Alive is his first novel. He lives in New York City.


‘a tour de force.’ — Publishers Weekly


‘Utterly compelling, and a delight to read.’  Herald Sun


 ‘essential reading for anyone who loves great writing.’ — Buzzfeed

'one of the most exciting debuts in recent years.' — Library Journal


‘Brother Alive is a rigorously intelligent, wholly sensitive, and quietly rebellious work of art, with prose as profound as it is beautiful. What an inspiring examination of the waywardness of life and the grounding of love this story is. What a wise, thoughtful writer Zain Khalid is. What a gift to humanity this book is.’  Robert Jones, Jr., New York Times-bestselling author of The Prophets


‘Zain Khalid’s imagination and talent are a marvel to behold in these pages. Brother Alive bristles with a kinetic, hypnotic energy that also manages to ask profound questions about love, faith, family, and loyalty. Hallucinatory and electrifying, Brother Alive announces the arrival of a writer with an impassioned and fearless vision.’  Maaza Mengiste, author of The Shadow King, shortlisted for the Booker Prize


‘Brother Alive is a remarkable work. Zain Khalid creates an immersive world rich in compelling detail. But even more impressively, Khalid achieves a kind of resistance text against our endemic inhumanity. The thrill lies in witnessing such a cogent and powerful intellect tune in to the music of life. An inspiring reminder of the great capacity of novels.'  Sergio de la Pava, author of A Naked Singularity




Pub Date
August 2022




Migration. Global race relations. Islamophobia.