I loved this book. Brother by David Chariandy is a must-read, and I completely understand why it’s making all the prize lists this Fall. It recounts the childhood and early adulthood of a sensitive Michael, and his older brother Francis. They live in a small apartment in the Toronto suburb of Scarborough with their extremely hard-working Trinidadian mother who desperately wants a better life for her sons, working herself to the bone to scrape together a living. Shortly into the book we discover that Francis is dead, and not until 3/4 of the way through this short volume (a novelly actually) do we find out the reason why.
I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t read Chariandy’s first novel Soucouyant, especially because it’s been nominated for every award under the sun (what kind of can-lit lover do I think I am?) but now that I’ve read his sophomore effort, I’ll be making my way to the bookstore right quick! I don’t even know what his first book is about, but it doesn’t matter, because it’s his writing that is the main draw. It’s lyrical but simple, and every sentence holds so much weight. In fact this is a book I wish I read back in university because it would have been so easy to write an essay on it, every phrase seems to have a double meaning. One of my favourite quotes:
One morning, I peered with Francis into a newspaper box to read a headline about the latest terror and caught in the glass the reflection of our own faces (p. 16).
A major theme of this book is race. Michael and Francis live in an apartment block with people who are all different colours, so although the ‘outside’ world sees their living conditions as poor, this small area seems to be a safe place for them. This gradually changes as they get older and run-ins with the police become more and more frequent, usually due to the people they socialize with, or what they wear, instead of their actual actions. In case I didn’t make this clear enough, they experience racism on a regular basis.
We get a small break from the harsh realities of life as an immigrant when they make a short trip back home to visit their mother’s family, although things aren’t easy for their mother there either. Instead, their extended family moan about how easy life in Canada must be, when in reality, it’s quite the opposite; their mother works tirelessly for a meagre salary, taking a litany of buses for hours each day in an attempt to take advantage of another opportunity. Life isn’t easy for many people, but reading this book will remind you that you’ve got lots to be thankful for. Personally, and I’m sure my husband would attest to this, my complaining dropped dramatically after reading this book for that very reason.
Although this may come as a surprise, beauty can be found everywhere in this novel; the love between the brothers, the undying support that Francis gives his mother, the music they all find solace in at certain points in their life. Chariandy doesn’t tell us what to think or how to feel in this book, he simply presents a story that is deeply affecting, eliciting a range of emotions within it’s 177 tightly-woven pages.
This sounds awesome!! He’s a new author to me.
oh you should pick this up, you won’t be disappointed!
His first book was truly enlightening. And this is on my to read list
oh man I need to read his first one!
I keep hearing such good things about this book that I will have to have a look at it. I don’t think I will catch any of his events here this week, but who knows we may cross paths while I’m driving (pray it does not snow as forecast!).
yes I’ll keep my fingers crossed! Hope you get to catch some good events this week regardless 🙂
You’re the kind of CanLit lover who says “right quick”! Love it!
This sounds wonderful – can’t wait to read it. I have also had his first book on my list for ages. It looks as though I will be reading them backwards, which is so often the case.
yah that happens to me all the time, which isn’t a bad thing I think. You can see the progression within their writing career easier this way
OK, I’ve requested it from NetGalley on your recommendation – fingers crossed! 😀
oh boy, the pressure! I hope it doesn’t let you down haha
I’ve been approved for it, so we shall see… 😱
This one’s on my list so I’m glad to hear such rave reviews!
One of the things I loved about this book was the way that he was able to sketch scenes in a way which felt very broad and encompassing in a succinct and spare manner. For instance, Michael’s working life. We only get a peek into it but, wow, I felt like I knew that manager and how grating that day-to-day reality must have been for him (the worker, not the manager – although likely his world wasn’t all sunshine and roses either).
Exactly! It’s amAzing what he accomplishes in such a short novel, it’s a sign of a truly gifted writer.
I’m considering teaching this to my 13 year old students. Do you feel that this is age appropriate? or is there any content that may be above their maturity level?
That would be great 8, correct? I wouldn’t say there’s anything inappropriate about the book, but it is quite literary, lots of introspection etc. so it may not hold their attention as well. Depends on their interest in reading in general I think…