Giller Longlist: Brother by David Chariandy

If you’re looking for that one beautiful gem, David Chariandy’s Brother just might be it. It’s raw and honest, and the writing is as smooth as silk.

Michael and his older brother Francis are close as they grow up in 1980s Scarborough, the sons of a single hard-working mother from Trinidad.

Francis was my older brother. His was a name a toughened kid might boast of knowing, or a name a parent might pronounce in warning. But before all this, he was the shoulder pressed against me bare and warm, that body always just a skin away.

We lived in Scar-bro, a suburb that had mushroomed up and yellowed, browned, and blackened into life.

Brother highlights the dedication of hard-working immigrant parents to provide for their children.

All around us in the Park were mothers who had journeyed far beyond what they knew, who took day courses and worked nights, who dreamed of raising children who might have just a little more than they did, children who might reward sacrifice and redeem a past.  And there were victories, you must know. Fears were banished by the scents of simmering pots, denigration countered by a freshly laundered tablecloth. History beaten back by the provision of clothes and yearly school supplies.

Another focus of the story is what it’s like growing up Black in the 80s. In an interview at The Globe and Mail  about his first book Soucouyant, Chariandy talks about being conflicted between telling it like it is – the racism he and his brother faced and how they “quietly accepted it” – and the “desire to rewrite history, to make his characters stand up to their tormentors and show them what’s what.” Despite the fact that there is a similar theme in Brother – racism, bullying, and police violence – in an interview with The Star, Chariandy is quick to point out that “Brother is about life, not death.” He sees this violence and racism as “an occasion upon which to tell a story about resilience, about creativity, about Black life.”

Trauma and grief also play a large part in this book.

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 adult wanted us to be. We were nobodies, or else, somehow, a city.

Nobody’s listening. There’s no way forward.

It had become almost recognizable. Our neighbourhood now a crime scene cast hard in the clashing brightness of emergency. Cop cars with flashing lights were parked up and down the street, on empty lots and on the soft grass of courtyards, leaving long  muddy tire tracks. There were two, three, four ambulances, and also the news vehicles with satellite dishes and milling reporters with microphones under bright TV lights. Illuminated, the buildings I had known all my life were changed. The stucco of a low-rise looked like the sole of an unwashed child; the rust on the balcony railings and fire exits of an apartment tower looked ugly and contagious, a bubbling rash. Even the ordinary clothes that people hung to dry on laundry lines suddenly looked suspicious. Conspiracies in the open hanging of slacks and saris, in headless baby jumpers.

Chariandy has carefully and thoughtfully honed it all down to 180 pages; he makes every word count.


The disappointment that Brother did not advance to the Giller shortlist is eased somewhat by seeing it show up on the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize finalist list.

Further Reading

Review at Buried in Print: “Ultimately, this is a story about the importance of telling one’s own story.

Review at I’ve Read This: “Although this may come as a surprise, beauty can be found everywhere in this novel...”

Review at The Globe and Mail: David Chariandy’s Brother and Catherine Hernandez’s Scarborough bring a community to life: “What Chariandy has created in this slim book is a language that can transcend the limits of words.”

Interview with David Chariandy on The Next Chapter


32 thoughts on “Giller Longlist: Brother by David Chariandy

    • Naomi says:

      For me it would be harder to imagine something that didn’t happen than write about something that did. But I’m only guessing about that since I rarely do either. 🙂

  1. Café Society says:

    This is the second review I’ve read of this which has made me want to go out and get a copy straight away. Unfortunately it’s not yet available in the UK but it is definitely on my watch list.

  2. FictionFan says:

    Since I added this to my TBR when you mentioned it as being longlisted, I’m glad you have such a high opinion of it! It doesn’t come out over here till next March so I’ll be holding off reading it till nearer then, but your review has nicely whetted my apetite… 🙂

  3. roughghosts says:

    I bought this book at Wordfest here last month, and had a great conversation with David. I have quite a bit of reading stacked up at the moment, but if I can get to it in the next few weeks, Anne Logan of I’ve Read This is hosting a book club later this month on this book. That may be a perfect excuse to read and discuss it with others. (If only there was some way to add the extra hour we get this weekend to every day!)

    • Naomi says:

      I love that extra hour. I use every minute of it!
      I hope you get to go to the book club discussion – that sounds like the perfect opportunity!

    • Naomi says:

      Thank you. I like reading them once I’m done my own review, and then always want to share something they’ve said that I missed, or that I think adds to what I’ve said in some way. I really enjoy it, but it does take time. 🙂

  4. buriedinprint says:

    One of the aspects of this story that I really enjoyed was the sense of landscape, which wasn’t everywhere (not on the page) but it felt like it was all-of-a-piece with the story. That idea of something beautiful and restorative (but also wild and unpredictable) right near. His first novel was really lovely too. In a different way, and perhaps a tiny bit less polished/honed (but not like it was unfinished, just like he let more bits come in – which I loved). Whenever you get to it, I’m sure you’ll like it too!

    • Naomi says:

      Yes! I loved the part the Park played in their lives, which you wrote about quite a bit in your review. Hopefully people will pop over and read it! 🙂
      I see that Soucouyant is a whole 220 pages! The question is… will I request it now? Or later?

      • buriedinprint says:

        Heheh…yes SO much longer. (It doesn’t feel much longer either, because it seemed like the chapters in it were actually shorter, so you just kept reading “one more”.) I’m betting on sooner, but who knows!

  5. The Cue Card says:

    Yes I’d like to read this book which I’ve heard quite a bit about! Sounds beautiful and honest & from the heart. I will get on the wait list for it at the library. I wonder if it will win the Rogers Prize?! I see from your link that it will be announced Nov. 14. Gosh some good authors on the short list. But will Chariandy win?!

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