David Chariandy’s Brother (2017)

Though set further north of the bluffs, David Chariandy’s follow-up to his debut Soucouyant is every bit as family-soaked, its losses and sorrows cast against a remarkable and enduring landscape.

In Brother, Michael introduces readers to the Rouge Valley, to his mother and to the memory of his brother Francis, as seen through his own eyes, but also reflected through other characters’ attachments to Francis.

“The Rouge Valley. It was a wound in the earth. A scar of green running through our neighbourhood, hundreds of feet deep in some places, a glacial valley that existed long before anything called Scarborough. It had been bridged near our home, turned into a park with a paved asphalt walkway running alongside the creek.”

This bridge and the path along the margin is both a literal and metaphoric construction. Characters are both connected and alienated, protected by boundaries and limited by them.

Scarborough itself is presented in all its complexity, the tensions within the community and tensions directed towards it drawing the narrative taut.

Desirea’s, the barbershop, is as significant a landscape as the Rouge Valley, as integral to identity and the concept of belonging.

“In Desirea’s, you postured but you also played. You showed up every one of your dictated roles and fates. Our parents had come from Trinidad and Jamaica and Barbados, from Sri Lanka and Poland and Somalia and Vietnam. They worked shit jobs, struggled with rent, were chronically tired, and often pushed just as chronically tired notions about identity and respectability. But in Desirea’s, different styles and kinships were possible, You found new language, you caught the gestures, you kept the meanings close as skin.”

Readers know from the beginning that Michael is the surviving son. Well, surviving might be optimistic. Perhaps his friend Aisha, who has returned home to grapple with the loss of her father, says it better.

“He does what we all do these days, Michael. He gets by.”

Michael and his mother are not the only people struggling to reconcile Francis’ death with their continued existence. The boys’ mother is, however, perhaps most overtly damaged.

“Mother’s face seemed ready to break. It’s hard to describe. Like watching a glass ball being dropped in a slow-motion movie. That fraction of a second just after the glass hits the ground and it’s still a ball, but the cracks are everywhere, and you know it’s not going to be a ball much longer.”

Her life was not simple before. Michael’s memories of growing up, his memories of the support that his brother once offered their mother, are complicated. He is only beginning to understand how she might have felt about having lost her connection to her Trinidad. A loss which is directly connected to every loss she has experienced since.

“She did not hint at the debt or struggle or the aches she often felt. As we headed to the airport, she just nodded and looked out the window at the coconut trees towering black against the evening sky, and the old untended fields of cane stretching out like a sea.”

Landscape as backdrop to a landscape as backdrop to a story cast against a series of buildings which are not homes. Michael’s workplace, the library, community centres: readers have this sense that this single family’s story stretches beyond a handful of characters, to even more catastrophic losses and injustices.

“Had I recognized it only then? We were losers and neighbourhood schemers. We were the children of the help, without futures. We were, none of us, what our parents wanted us to be. We were not what any other adults wanted us to be. We were nobodies, or else, somehow, a city.”

Chariandy’s language is spare. Readers are not afforded the opportunity to get lost in snares of commentary. An occasional moment of lyricism punctuates the harsh realities of the family’s experiences.

The narrative moves smoothly between two time periods: that in which Michael has a living brother and that in which Michael must continue living without a brother. Clear and concise, there is room here for emotions to resonate.

The story is tightly controlled so that sentimentality never obscures the deliberate and carefully choreographed dance. Between the possibilities of “then” and the impossibilities of “now”.

Michael’s story is everybody’s story, nobody’s story, and a city’s story. All at once.

Ultimately, this is a story about the importance of telling one’s own story.

So, now, this story needs readers. Will you be one of them?


David Chariandy’s Brother‘s superpower is its precision. 

Shortlisted for his debut novel, Soucouyant, in 2007, Brother seemed poised to progress to the Giller shortlist this year. Particularly given that the 2017 jury not only appreciates a variety of storytellers’ voices but also values lean and deliberate prose. Perhaps they were looking for a chunkier narrative, with a more scenic – and less lyrical – style. Instead, Brother was shortlisted for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Award for Fiction. 



  1. […] David Chariandry’s Brother, The Bone Mother is preoccupied with the power of storytelling, with the particular significance of […]

  2. Laila@BigReadingLife November 2, 2017 at 3:29 pm - Reply

    With your seal of approval and Naomi’s, I must read this book.

    • Buried In Print November 8, 2017 at 8:45 am - Reply

      I hope you enjoy it. And maybe it’ll encourage you to come back to Toronto and check out Scarborough and the Rouge River Park!

  3. Naomi October 29, 2017 at 3:54 pm - Reply

    I thought this book was just about perfect. I read in an interview that he spent most of his ‘writing’ time editing his book down, and that he would have kept going if his editor hadn’t stopped him. 🙂

    • Buried In Print October 30, 2017 at 9:17 am - Reply

      The only interview I’ve read so far is the “Quill & Quire” one, but I’m looking foward to reading/listening to some more now. Has he been on “The Next Chapter” yet? I’m so behind with that show this year (I’ve been trying to catch up on American and UK book podcasts!) Brother does have that spare and honed feel to it, so I can imagine the editing and revision process must have been very demanding. Still, part of me wishes that there was more to read about these characters, even though the novel stands on its own. I wonder if he might work up some of the edited parts into short stories or a novella, as companion pieces of a sort.

      • Naomi October 31, 2017 at 12:18 pm - Reply

        I would also like to read more about them. They all still seemed pretty broken at the end of the book – more than I would like. I want to know they’re okay. I’d also like to read more about Jelly. And maybe the parents – what happened there? And the mother’s point of view. And maybe something nice for her, ’cause she deserves it!

        I don’t think I’ve seen that he’s been on The Next Chapter yet, but it must only be a matter of time…

        • Buried In Print October 31, 2017 at 12:26 pm - Reply

          I think the reason that I felt that there had been a change was simply that the grieving circle was a little larger, a safety in numbers thing, but I agree that there isn’t really a comfortable sense of restoration. (Jelly’s is the story I want told!) Maybe we are just meant to recognise that they will be okay because they been okay for this long and there is no reason to think it will become harder now? I’ll be interested to hear what you think about Catherine Hernandez’s Scarborough when you get to that one; they are terrific companions in so many ways. (Not that I’m saying you should rush for it: you’ll remember Brother for a good while, I’m sure!)

          • Naomi October 31, 2017 at 12:53 pm - Reply

            I would love to follow up with Scarborough! But yeah… it might have to wait.

  4. iliana October 27, 2017 at 4:22 pm - Reply

    Oh this one does intrigue me and I have to say I love that cover too.

    • Buried In Print October 27, 2017 at 4:35 pm - Reply

      Isn’t it lush? It’s also a remarkably slim volume, which seems to set off the cover art even more!

  5. annelogan17 October 27, 2017 at 11:27 am - Reply

    Oh ok I just read your sidebar-the Writers Trust it is! LOL

    • Buried In Print October 27, 2017 at 12:16 pm - Reply

      Oh, I know, I know. I can keep the Giller listings straight, but the shortlists for the others I have to check every time!

  6. annelogan17 October 27, 2017 at 11:27 am - Reply

    I loved this book, which is why I chose it for my November book club pick. I really do hope he wins the GG (or is the Rogers Writers Prize he was nominated for?) because I think this book deserves lots of attention. Great review!

    • Buried In Print October 27, 2017 at 12:15 pm - Reply

      I’m so glad to hear that you enjoyed it. I hope it’s a hit with your book club too! Have you read the other nominees? I think that’s a pretty amazing list. I’m reading Carleigh Baker’s short stories now, and I’m starting American War this weekend. Maybe, then, it’ll be even harder for me to choose a single favourite!

  7. roughghosts October 27, 2017 at 3:20 am - Reply

    I have heard so much good about this but was not convinced that it was for me until I heard him talk about it here at our festival. We also had a great chat, about international and translated literature in fact. So, of course, I now have his book!

    • Buried In Print October 27, 2017 at 12:11 pm - Reply

      Isn’t that always the way? Well, okay, maybe not always, but often. Whenever I hear an author speak in detail about their writing process, I am often much more interested and, in this case, I’m sure that hearing about how long he spent refining this particular story and the various struggles associated with the storytelling were even more inspiring. And, then, a great conversation? Well, you’d pretty much have to buy it, right? You did good (not that you need reminding of that)!

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