Eye Brother Horn by Bridget Pitt
Minneapolis, Minnesota. Catalyst Press. 2023. 278 pages.
BRIDGET PITT’S Eye Brother Horn could have been a saga of empty gestures, unearned revelations, and inconsequential atonement. In other words, it could’ve been just another white-savior tale. Yet Pitt does so much more with cultural sincerity and this heartwarming—and wrenching—tale of brothers forced to exist at odds. Eye Brother Horn is a creation myth in of itself, not for any religion or group, but of harmony.
Two boys, Moses and Daniel, are raised by white missionaries in nineteenth-century South Africa. Daniel, the missionaries’ biological child, possesses a magically real connection to animals after miraculously surviving a rhino attack as an infant. Moses, who was rescued as a newborn, desperately tries to find his identity lodged somewhere between an adoptive white community and his Zulu roots. As the two grow, the reality of racism and classism tries to tear them apart.
The novel alternates between Moses’s and Daniel’s perspectives, offering smaller passages within larger movements separated by years at a time. Their tales are rarely redundant, and neither is boiled down to a simple reaction. Pitt doesn’t overexpose or underrepresent either character, bolstering the reader’s investment in both.
The dual narrative also frames the friction between the colonizer’s Christianity and South Africa’s native, ancestral spirituality. Through the divide, the boys’ ideas begin to meld. Despite Daniel’s privilege—his “birthright”—he’s afflicted by debilitating episodes whenever his family hunts the local wildlife. Conversely, Moses distances himself from weapons of any kind, instead finding comfort in the stars and science. As young adults, the dreams they share are quelled, but their bond ties their hope tighter.
Pitt’s prose is tight and clear. While not overly simple, her consistency keeps the boys’ transition to their twenties seamless. Their vernacular and experiences just click, as if we’re privy to all the formative years the story doesn’t explore.
The novel begins to compromise its balance near its climax, but not without cause. Even so, there’s a sense that Moses could have had a bit more of presence as he and Daniel butt heads with the latter’s wealthy uncle, Roland. It’s a minor setback to an otherwise powerful finale.
Eye Brother Horn is a testament to the strength of kinship. It illustrates the connection we share while dissecting the constructs that separate us. Pitt has a gift for weaving modern turmoil into historic figures. The novel is a reminder that no consequence is harsh enough to extinguish hope.