Alex Khourie

Kajsa Göransson
Alex Khourie: Bror. Youth novel, Rabén & Sjögren, 2023. Nominated for the 2024 Nordic Council Children and Young People’s Literature Prize.


Bror (“Brother”, not translated into English) transports us straight into one of the most pressing problems in Swedish society - gang crime with its brutal violence and shootings, which are increasingly penetrating further down the generations.  


As readers, we get a strong sense of authenticity, that this world is depicted from within. A number of qualities contribute to that feeling – the author’s way of capturing life in the Stockholm suburb of Alby in sharp detail with everything from the different cultures and religions to food habits. The language, with its keen ear for the suburb’s sociolect and the use of Arabic words, provides an initiated description of the inner life of gangs and their hierarchies and conflicts. Many of the groups mentioned exist in real life. 


After committing petty crimes together with two friends, the main character Hussein is recruited by a gang and drawn further into a situation that quickly deteriorates. Soon he has no choice, and eventually blackmail and threats lead to him having to murder someone. 


Hussein is a devout Shia Muslim and struggles all the time with his conscience and the conviction that his actions will lead him to hell. Our empathy for this is strengthened by the portrayal of Islam with great insight into every aspect of the religion. 


Society’s helplessness in the face of what’s happening is conveyed with frightening clarity. Despite their best attempts, neither his school, the social services, nor his beloved mother can break the trend and lead him in another direction. Although his stay in young offenders home – an existence that the character also initiated – opens up opportunities, he is inevitably forced to return to Alby and ultimately the tragic death. Just the description of being forced to do something with no return makes the story shocking for the reader. It’s something that’s difficult to defend. 


Hussein’s dad is dead and he’s abused when his mum’s new husband suddenly comes onto the scene, but this isn’t enough to explain his destructive choices. Alex Khourie provides no explanations, and simply shows the reality that he’s seen, without any illusions. 


The author is a social worker in his 30s and has extensive experience of working with young people in gang crime. The book is based on all the stories he’s heard from the young people he has met in his work. Alex Khourie is a pseudonym he uses to protect these people and prevent them from feeling that he’s profiting from their stories.  


Bror is Alex Khourie’s debut.