“It is a story, effectively vague, of a young man deeply “troubled,” and of a younger brother carrying “history” and a mother showing now the creep of “madness.”
Thank you David Chariandy, for writing your own blog within your own book! So, there you have it folks- this is what “Brother” is about. Hopefully you came here to read my take on this “coming of age” story, so I will humbly oblige. Wish me luck! Here goes:
I think Tolstoy could have taken a lesson from David Chariandy (if they lived in the same era!). Chariandy’s writing appears to flow so effortlessly, like the music from a Sitar. Just as a musician must practice the strings for hours before the great audition, Chariandy too must have spent many long hours editing and re-editing his sentences, before giving the readers a story to unfold. He has chosen each word so carefully, that none are redundant. Truly Brother is a complex tale, so beautifully described- but with such limited word count- only 177 pages. Our own fellow Canadian has proven to that minimalists are efficient.
While reading, I had the urge to put in some real tunes by Otis Clay and Nina Simone; I could almost smell the fragrances of the West Indian Spices he describes in his character’s homes, and could see Scarborough’s Rouge clearly. This book toys with life in the ‘hood, mental health and homosexuality.
Michael and Francis are both children of immigrants, live with their mom, have no father figure in the house, watch their mother burn out trying to make ends meet and witness the poor lifestyle of their neighbourhood, all while struggling to become mature. As children, these boys become familiar with gangs, and crimes- when the tough get tougher, these boys look for ways to escape. Michael turns his focus inward, becoming an introvert- and only really giving readers a glimpse of who he is, when he is at The Rouge. Michael fails at looking “put together” and his inner confusions show- often leading him to be teased, or advised on how to dress by others.
Francis finds himself drawn to his friend, Jelly, who also shares his passion for making music. He spends his days at a Barbershop called “Desirea”, where he listens to various artists, remixes songs using the sounds of music legends, like Nina Simone and dreams of a day where he can escape the darkness of his neighbourhood. It is through music, that he finds an escape. He keeps his dreams on the down low from his brother and his mother, as he doesn’t think they will be able to relate. It is in the same barbershop, where Francis found the dreams to live big and to love freely, that he also met Death. While pursuing his and Jelly’s recording dream and being persistent against the obstacles in his path, Francis gets beat up. He returns to the Barbershop, the only home he feels free in, to seek refuge, and it is here, that he gets gunned down by police officers, while trying to protect the boy he loves.
This incident sets off a pattern of madness in the mother, who must be taken care of by her surviving son. The stigma around mental illness is obvious in Chariandy’s writings- Michael, learns what is and what isn’t acceptable in social interactions. He watches her become a spectacle in the neighbourhood- gossip is spread about her and she is avoided by others. He becomes very protective of his mother and shields her from society. Some families still bring cooked food over to them, but they do so with minimal interaction.
The hesitance in open communication is prevalent throughout the book. Hints are made towards homosexuality, but not said upfront. Chariandy references James Baldwin’s controversial book Giovanni’s Room in the early pages. Michael finds condoms in Francis’ stuff, but his brother refuses to speak about girls to him- leaving him very confused. Yet, Michael is not the only one with unanswered questions- Francis too feels alone. He runs away from home to seek refuge in the Barbershop with his lover, Jelly. He is constantly admiring him, while Jelly seems to be the only one who can calm down the frustration behind Francis’s eyes. Just like how Francis has no one to share his intimate experiences with, Michael can’t talk to his brother about Aisha.
All in all, this is a beautifully written book about controversial- but very real issues. The metaphors, imagism and word choice are wonderful! I strongly suggest buying this book TODAY!