Chariandy, David. “Brother: A Novel”, Bloomsbury, 2017.
Masculinity, Race, Sexuality, Family and Community
Every once in a while a debut novel comes along that literally knocks me off guard. “Brother” is a book like that and I am already saying to keep our eyes on David Chariandy because he is going to be a major literary voice. “Brother” is set against a backdrop of violence during the summer of 1991.
Michael and Francis are coming of age one very hot time of year. They live in The Park, a housing complex outside of Toronto and they have had to learn to deal with careless prejudices and low expectations that confront them because of their black and brown ancestry. Their Trinidadian single mother works double, sometimes triple shifts so that her boys “might fulfill the elusive promise of their adopted home”. Francis spends his pass by inventing games and challenges; he takes Michael to his crew’s barbershop hangout, and to escapes at the cool air of the Rouge Valley, a scar and oasis of green wilderness where they are free to imagine better lives for themselves.
Francis loves music, especially hip hop with its beats and styles and he dreams that one day his future will have to do with music. Michael dreams about Aisha, the smartest girl in their high school who is determined to find a life somewhere else. own eyes are firmly set on a life elsewhere. But suddenly, everything changes because of a tragic shooting, and the police crackdown afterwards and the suspicion that follows.
I quickly fell in love with the characters even though their life experiences were so different than my own as this is, of course, due to the author’s honest and insightful portrayal of kinship, community and lives cut short. I was stunned by the beauty of the prose as well and the sensitivity with which Chariandy created those we get to know. I felt what they felt and when they were disappointed and frustrated so was I. We read of masculinity and we read of tenderness sometimes in the same sentence. Here is beautiful brotherly love and I always felt I missed something because I never had a brother. After reading this, I felt that I did, indeed, have one.
The themes of the book are the themes of life— brotherhood, belonging, masculinity and race. We are given a look at a Black family and its members who have had their privacies taken from them and we see how they react to tragedy and what happens when hopes and desires are left unfilled. There are great moments on almost every page and this is a book that you will carry with you long after you have closed the covers.