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.