‘Brother’ is a timely meditation on loss

Canada Reads’ novel tells story of brotherhood and grief

David Chariandy’s Brother is a Canada Reads finalist. 

A eulogy to lost boys and corrupted innocence, David Chariandy’s latest novel, Brother, follows the residents of Scarborough who search in vain for a place to call home. 

In the novel, Michael and his Trinidadian mother grapple with their grief for over ten years after Michael’s brother Francis dies. They’re unable to learn how to live without him.  

In their neighborhood, they’re like everyone else—facing the same struggle to succeed and fit in—but outside, they’re untrusted and unwelcomed. 

In Brother, most of the characters are immigrants and they share a common experience: they’re never accepted. Their home is never really their home. 

This is a feeling that worsens when the young family loses Francis, leaving Michael and his mother struggling to find peace.

Silence is their coping strategy. Never so much as saying Francis’ name, or talking about grief, they move through their daily routines without excitement. 

Chariandy uses this silence as a tool. He doesn’t linger on Michael’s flashbacks of his brother; they’re too painful for him to remember. The author shows the reader just how deeply Michael is hurting by using indirect prose.

This experience with loss and grief isn’t an isolated experience in the city. 

Set in the mid-80’s, the novel’s Scarborough is home to mostly immigrants or children of immigrants. 

They’re ostracized and discriminated against on a daily basis. This makes it nearly impossible for any resident to get a job that pays well enough to move out of what the locals call “Scarlem,” or “Scar-bro.” 

Chariandy uses this language to convey identity and explore the city his characters live in. The characters’ use of the nickname “Scarlem” implies that Scarborough is like a Canadian version of the American neighborhood Harlem, frequently associated with crime, poverty, and drug use in the same time period Brother is set in. 

Chariandy’s Scarborough is no different. 

In the novel, living in “Scarlem” as a child of immigrants can sometimes be a death sentence. 

Facing discrimination from residents of nicer, richer neighborhoods, the communities in Scarborough have a hard time climbing ranks to get out of town in pursuit of a better life. 

Many of the young male characters turn to crime for money in hopes of one day leaving. This is mostly implied through the writing style. 

Chariandy’s novel is written in hushed tones, never explicitly revealing anything. 

He’s as secretive as his characters, and gives the reader only as much information as they need to piece together the story. When cash changes hands at Desirea’s barbershop, the reader—through the eyes of a young Michael—is led to think something illegal is taking place. 

He associates this exchange of cash with his mother finding out Francis hung out at Desirea’s. Her shock and shame at the discovery is a clue to the reader of the criminal reputation of this barbershop. 

These characters live every day with constant threats of violence. Young male residents, the novel’s perpetrators of this violence, boast about their behavior on street corners, and the police who hunt them—and innocents—down. 

From the start of the novel,rippling gunshots and blaring police sirens, coupled with the sound of rubber skidding on gravel and sneakers pounding the pavement makeup the fictitious soundtrack to life in “Scar-bro.” 

This sound haunts the youth of Scarborough, alluding to the sad reality that their future will likely play out in a similar way. 

Chariandy’s characters are set-up for failure from the start. Living in a world that assumes the worst from them, very few are able to prove that assumption wrong. 

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