Brother by David Chariandy

But during that first night in Mother’s birthplace, I remember feeling afraid, though of what I did not know. Something old and unburied in the darkness, something closer to us now than ever before. I remember lying awake with Francis and hearing for the first time the scream of a rooster, my brother’s hand pressed hard in mine. The sun still hadn’t risen, and I remember looking at Francis, who lay beside me very still with his eyes wide open. I remember searching for a clue about our situation in some slight movement of his ear, or of his jaw, or of that expressive space between his mouth and nose. And when he caught me looking at him, he swallowed and nodded.

“Don’t be afraid,” he said.

36672820Oh my goodness. This book. I don’t know that I’ve read a book that made me feel more in 177 short pages. David Chariandy’s Brother was highly recommended by three bloggers I trust, Anne @ I’ve Read This, Fiction Fan @ Fiction Fan’s Book Reviews, and Naomi @ Consumed by Ink (links to their reviews if you click their names.) They did not let me down. It’s a book that I could have read in a day or two but I deliberately drew my reading out longer because I wanted to savor the writing and really let the story sink in.

Set in Toronto, flashing back from present day to the 1980’s and 90’s, Brother is the story of Michael and his older, cooler brother Francis. Growing up in a part of town called Scarborough, home to immigrants from many nations, the brothers are smart but swimming against both the high expectations of their hard-working Trinidadian mother and the low expectations of their community. The specter of gang violence haunts their nightmares and impacts their waking hours too. Their father has disappeared and their mother works two or even three low-paying jobs but still doesn’t have enough money to fix a rotten tooth. But the boys find small ways to escape and experience peace through food, music, and through visits to a nearby park called The Rouge Valley.

When we were very young, we’d build forts and hideaways in the brush, using branches but also cardboard and broken piece of furniture occasionally dumped here. We’d race twigs in the creek, spot the little speckled fish swimming together in the blowing current, hunt for the other small lives that had managed to survive in the park unnoticed. The tracks in the mud of a muskrat or a raccoon or maybe a turtle…. One fall we piled the stuff of this land over our bodies like blankets. Coloured leaves and pine needles, branches and the barbed wire of thistles. Also plastic bags and foil drifting down with smashed drinking straws and rushes. Our faces were already the colour of earth.

This is a coming-of-age story as well as a story about grief and identity. The possibility of young love gently permeates the tale, lending the narrative a bit of needed lightness. There is not a word wasted in this book. I marveled at Chariandy’s craft in creating such a powerful story in so few pages. Small details, like a mother gently pinching her son’s earlobe “lightly between her thumb and finger as if it were a raindrop from a leaf” are the kinds of things that made me want to linger instead of racing through the pages.

There is tragedy here, and the reader knows this from pretty early on, so I was bracing myself while simultaneously enjoying the beautiful, searing writing. Yet even with the devastating pain of loss there is still a note of tender hope here, that lives can be patched back up to form something new. This is Chariandy’s first novel published in the United States, and his second novel overall (2007’s Soucayant is one I must somehow find a copy of.) I am so thrilled that I learned about Brother from my blogger friends, and I hope that you will give it a try if you haven’t yet read it. It’s one of my favorite books so far this year.



29 thoughts on “Brother by David Chariandy

  1. Great review of a great book! So glad you enjoyed it too, and thanks for the link. I’ll be looking out for Soucayant too, and whatever he writes next. I loved that the book wasn’t entirely bleak – so many of these immigrant stories leave me wondering why people immigrate at all! And I loved the section on Trinidad too… 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this or just thought of mentioning it, but just in case… “I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You: A Letter to my Daughter” came out a short time ago, and it is also excellent!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I looked this book up because I haven’t seen it advertised anywhere, and I found that it’s categorized into these areas: Coming-of-Age Fiction, Literary fiction, Gay Fiction, Urban fiction, Political fiction. That’s a lot to cover in a short book.

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  3. I am so glad you loved this. It really felt like every word was picked and chosen carefully, didn’t it?
    Beautiful review!

    Just so you know… “That Time I Loved You” by Carrianne Leung is also set in Scarborough. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  4. The story about how long and how hard he revised this book fascinated me before I read it and, then, I could see exactly what he meant about the writing of. It was on last year’s Giller Prize longlist (and scooped the Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize for 2017, another prominent CanLit Prize): it’s great to see it getting so much well-deserved attention. You chose lovely selections. (My review is here, if you’re curious: Soucouyant will make you want to add the bluffs to your next Toronto visit.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I will have to read an interview with him about the process. I did note the ten years interval between books. I’m glad it’s been listed for and won prizes – well deserved! I’m sorry I didn’t include you in my links of other reviews! I forgot you reviewed it too. 🙂 I have been thinking a lot about our trip to Toronto. My cousin still lives there but in another apartment now. I loved our visit so much and do want to go back. There’s so much to see and it’s so navigable for a big city.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Still in a nice central section of the city though? It was nice for you to be located at such a main intersection, easy to access transit. Do let me know when you are coming back and I will find you some bookish places that are not as well known as the bigger shops. (No worries: I’m just glad you read and enjoyed it!)

        Liked by 1 person

  5. What a unique and beautiful sounding book! Thank you for picking up this upon the review of so many wonderful bloggers. It’s always great when recommendations pan out like this. Obviously, I’ve added Brother to my own TBR.

    Any idea why we don’t have Soucayant published in America? I don’t know much about how publishing works…

    Liked by 1 person

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