A special thank you to NetGalley, Penguin Random House Canada, and McClelland & Stewart for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
This gorgeous and powerful novel is the winner of the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize, longlisted for the 2017 Scotiabank Giller Prize, a Globe and Mail Best Book, and a Quill & Quire Best Book of 2017.
Brother is a tight and compact novel that packs a huge punch. Chariandy explores questions of race, class, family, identity, and social standing. Set in a Scarborough housing complex during the summer of 1991, violence is at a peak as is the heat.
Michael and Francis, the brothers, are the sons of Trinidadian immigrants. Their father has disappeared and to keep them afloat, their mother works double/triple shifts so that her boys have every opportunity in their adopted homeland.
This coming-of-age story takes place in The Park—a cluster of town homes in the outskirts of one of Canada's major cities. The boys' options are limited as they battle against stereotypes, prejudices, poverty, and the low expectations that confront young black men; they are perceived as thieves from shopkeepers, less intelligent from their teachers, and strangers fear them. The brothers' only escape is the Rouge Valley, a lush green wilderness that perforates their neighbourhood, and it is here where they imagine a better life from what they are destined for.
The boys witness a tragic shooting of an acquaintance, a boy named Anton, and they are handcuffed and roughed up by the police. The police crack down on hem, and in doing so, suffocate their hopes and dreams of a better life. It is this event that drives Francis' anger and pulls away from his family and into his gang—a group of boys who are interested the exploration of music in the form of hip hop in its infancy.
Chariandy's novel is a devastatingly emotional piece. It opens ten years after the event that altered their family and left their mother constrained by grief. The family still live in the same rundown apartment although the roles are now reversed and it is Michael who is the caregiver to his mother in her fragile state. The narrative shifts between past and present and it is the sheer force of it that drives the story. Short in length, but lasting, this story will linger with the reader long after the last page is turned.