What I’m Reading: Brother

From the book jacket:

An intensely beautiful, searingly powerful, tightly constructed novel, Brother explores questions of masculinity, family, race, and identity as they are played out in a Scarborough housing complex during the sweltering heat and simmering violence of the summer of 1991. 

With shimmering prose and mesmerizing precision, David Chariandy takes us inside the lives of Michael and Francis. They are the sons of Trinidadian immigrants, their father has disappeared and their mother works double, sometimes triple shifts so her boys might fulfill the elusive promise of their adopted home. 

Coming of age in The Park, a cluster of town houses and leaning concrete towers in the disparaged outskirts of a sprawling city, Michael and Francis battle against the careless prejudices and low expectations that confront them as young men of black and brown ancestry — teachers stream them into general classes; shopkeepers see them only as thieves; and strangers quicken their pace when the brothers are behind them. Always Michael and Francis escape into the cool air of the Rouge Valley, a scar of green wilderness that cuts through their neighbourhood, where they are free to imagine better lives for themselves. 

Propelled by the pulsing beats and styles of hip hop, Francis, the older of the two brothers, dreams of a future in music. Michael’s dreams are of Aisha, the smartest girl in their high school whose own eyes are firmly set on a life elsewhere. But the bright hopes of all three are violently, irrevocably thwarted by a tragic shooting, and the police crackdown and suffocating suspicion that follow.

With devastating emotional force David Chariandy, a unique and exciting voice in Canadian literature, crafts a heartbreaking and timely story about the profound love that exists between brothers and the senseless loss of lives cut short with the shot of a gun.

My review:

This novella received a lot of rave reviews on Goodreads, but I personally wasn’t quite as captivated by it as most other readers were. That’s not to say that I didn’t find the message to be important, it still is and is very relevant to this day.

It’s disappointing to know that even though this story takes place in the early 90’s, the issues that society was facing then are still happening now. If anything, Brother is an important read to remember the struggles people face when they don’t quite fit in, even in Canada where we’re hailed as being an all-accepting country. Racism is very much a real thing here.

I truly felt for Francis and Michael, with Francis being thrown into becoming the man of the house at such a young age, and Michael still trying to just be a kid but also gain respect amongst his peers. Perhaps the reason though for my lower rating for Brother is because I desperately wanted more.

On the other hand, I wonder if Chariandy purposely made this a quick read that had brief subplots to reflect what happens in reality. Not every avenue pans out in real life; there are a lot of situations where “that’s that” and you don’t get to elaborate or know more. Either way, I still think Brothers is a decent quick read.

My rating: ★★★½/5

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