GUEST WRITER KIM SKILLITER RECOMMENDS BROTHER BY DAVID CHARIANDY
It’s not often that I come to the end of a novel and immediately flip back to the beginning, but I did just that with Brother. David Chariandy’s mesmerizing writing and gripping storyline kept me reading so quickly that, coming to the end of its 187 pages, I wasn’t quite ready to leave it behind me.
Readers who appreciate Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give will find a similar storyline. Chariandy’s characters are the marginalized immigrants of early 1990s’ Scarborough, Ontario. They are hardworking and hopeful, but the obstacles in the way of achieving their dreams of a better life in this country are overwhelming. Parents navigate lengthy routes on public transit to work backbreaking hours at minimum wage jobs, forced to leave their young children home behind locked doors- with strict instructions not to open them. Children face racism at school; they are feared and shunned by their fellow students, driven into alternative programming, and, often, out the door entirely, by the educational system. The police are an omnipresent threat.
The title refers to the narrator Michael’s late brother, Francis, an intelligent, sensitive, popular and well-respected member of the immigrant community in The Park- a low-income housing complex in Scarborough. The novel is an homage to Francis and to all those young lives ruined and-all too often- lost, by oppressive ideologies at play in what is supposed to be the most welcoming of countries. Chariandy’s characters are complex; he fleshes out stereotypes and we fall in love with people like Anton, a small-time drug dealer who “never had the right sort of clothes against the cold and rain. . . couldn’t hide the fact that at dinnertime he wouldn’t be going inside.” Chariandy’s imagery is astounding, and we sweat in the summer heat along with his characters, like Michael and Francis’ mom, who comes home from work off the bus in a catatonic state to a stultifying, airless apartment- and a bowl of cold water for her feet, provided by a young Francis.
Chariandy, himself the son of Trinidadian immigrants to Toronto, is an important voice in Canadian literature because we need to read the truth about our country, and we need to have empathy for all of its citizens. We need to reflect on the oppressive systems at work in what is supposed to be a welcoming place, full of opportunity for all. Students need to be given the opportunity to hear diverse voices and to reflect on these important messages in our classrooms.
Kim is an English teacher at Fredericton High School. She loves to read, read some more, and talk to her students about how awesome reading is 😊. She hopes one day soon to resurrect the Canadian Literature course at FHS, and to pilot an Indigenous Literature course as well.