Brother by David Chariandy

“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 adults wanted us to be. We were nobodies, or else, somehow, a city.”

3/5 stars.
ebook, 132 pages.
Read on February 7, 2019.

This is the only full-fiction selection from the Canada Reads 2019 shortlist though its story is likely all too real for many. This is an intricate story of a set of first-generation Canadian brothers, Michael and Francis, and their upbringing in the rough neighbourhood of Scarborough, Ontario in the 90s. 

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“Brother” will be defended by Lisa Ray in the Canada Reads 2019 debates taking place on March 25-28, 2019.


The story has a weaving timeline that begins in the present day in which Michael is welcoming an old school friend, Aisha, into the home he still shares with his ailing mother after Aisha’s father has passed away. The two of them allude to a tragic event involving Francis and from there Michael ruminates on the details of his childhood opening the whole story up to the reader as well as the events that brought about the death of his brother, Francis.

Michael and Francis’ mother is originally from Trinidad and Tobago and with their father absent, she is the sole provider for her boys. She works hard, too hard, in order to keep food on the table for them. It is her character I find the most tragic. After Francis dies, she is never herself again. She tried so hard to bring her boys the best yet they were never able to overcome the impossible circumstances that poverty and race trapped them in.

Francis was the cool kid in the neighbourhood. Popular and into his fair share of trouble and with a dream of being involved in hip hop and music but was constantly fighting the barrage of prejudice against him. Kids from this neighbourhood were made up of a variety of immigrant families struggling to get by. Crime, poverty, and gangs became prevalent and not much was expected of kids like Michael and Francis, and like many of the kids in the neighbourhood, they got smothered in this trapt environment. Aisha was the exception. Aisha did well very well in school and managed to escape the neighbourhood with a scholarship. Aisha and Michael used to spend lots of time at the local library as a way to get out of the house and because Michael was never quite cool enough to hang out with Francis and his friends at a local barbershop.

The story is an encompassing story that touches on immigration, race, poverty and the Black Lives Matter movement, yet the approach of these difficult ideas is broached in such a delicate manner. It’s written in a very matter-of-fact way in that it emphasises that this is just another ordinary family and that their situation isn’t all that unique, making the impact of the story that much more poignant. It’s a very politically and timely piece that is uniquely Canadian in terms of the setting but all-encompassing with its ideas.

The ideas alone are enough to move you but the way Michael and his mother’s life end up, without Francis and without hope of a better life, are what truly make this novel.

Hocus Pocus by Kurt Vonnegut

“Despite our enormous brains and jam-packed libraries, we germ hotels cannot expect to understand absolutely everything.”

3/5 stars.
ebook, 336 pages.
Read from October 2, 2018 to October 10, 2018.

It’s been years since I read Vonnegut and I had clearly forgotten how witty and dry his humour and writing style can be.

Set in a futuristic but realistic world, Hocus Pocus follows Eugene, a Vietnam war veteran, who through a strange turn of events finds himself a teacher at a private college for wealthy youth with learning disabilities. Eugene is an unremarkable man who ends up marrying a woman with a family history of mental illness, and after she follows her mother into madness, Eugene begins a number of affairs with other women. Eugene then ends up becoming a teacher at the local prison after being fired for misconduct because a student at the college randomly recorded his conversations and comments which, of course, were then taken out of context. That, and Eugene also gets caught shagging the wife of a big head honcho of the school.  While he is working at the prison there is a prison break that results in a bloody scene at the school in which the prisoners barricade themselves inside and start killing people off. Eugene is then mistakenly named as one of the ringleaders in this prison break and soon finds himself imprisoned and dying of tuberculosis.

Eugene’s story is a strong satire and commentary on everything from war, capitalism, politics and sex, just like many of Vonnegut’s other works. However, in comparison to Vonnegut’s other works, especially his masterpieces like Slaughterhouse Five and Cat’s Cradlethis book falls a little flat in terms of interest and readability. You need to get about 75 pages into this book in order to feel some sort of interest in the story and to find the flow of the plot and narration. Eugene narrates the story while he is already in prison as a reflection of what really happened in his life prior to his conviction and tuberculosis diagnoses so it does take a bit to figure out what’s going on with the timeframe of the plot but I suppose it is to be expected since Eugene informs the reader that he is writing his story on scraps of paper making the story seem like a large series of digressions. hocus-pocus-kurt-vonnegut-telling-the-harsh-but-liberating-truth-sparknotes

While this book combines a ridiculous story with humour, profound wit and commentary all at the same time, it was not a novel I generally enjoyed reading. I liked most of it but I did not find it as captivating as some of Vonnegut’s other works. If you are a Vonnegut fan, however, and have not read this book, I would still recommend it.

Also, for those that have read the book, Eugene mentions that he realizes that while he was in Vietnam he killed a certain number of men and that number also ended up being the same as the number of women he has slept with.

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Source: discipuloo on Reddit

If you’re curious about the answer to his math riddle the number can be found in some inside covers of the book with an illustration.

I also happen to find someone good at math who broke down the numbers:

Eugene Debs died on – 1926
Arthur C. Clarke movie – 2001
Hitler’s birth – 1889
The gestation period of opossum in days – 12
Divide by square route of 4 – 2
Subtract 100 times 9 – 900
add the greatest number of children from one woman – 69
1926-2001= -75
-75+1889= 1814
1814=12= 1826
1826 / 2 = 913
913-900= 13
13 + 69 =

82

Cheers to mrchoon who did the math on Yahoo Answers.

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

You think, “Great, I understand this. I got this. I can understand Stephen Hawking, damn I’m smart!”. It is a false hope.

3/5 stars.
ebook, 280 pages
Read from September 26, 2018 to October 5, 2018.

Stephen Hawking was a brilliant man, I don’t think there are many that can deny that (well, maybe a few religious fundamentalists). All over the world, the science community mourned the loss of Hawking this last spring when his struggles with ALS came to an end. Hawking made powerful contributions to the realms of physics, he was also an accomplished author and was one of the most recognizable faces of a modern-day genius. After his passing, I meant to finally read one of his books and while it’s a bit delayed I did finally manage to. I clearly did not know what I was getting into.

Despite being an English major, I have always enjoyed the sciences. That is, except for physics because I fucking suck at it. That doesn’t mean that I’m not interested in the questions that physicists have, it’s that my brain isn’t capable of doing the equations to solve them. I’m still interested in the process and the conclusion, just when someone else does them and then I can read about it later. Having said that, this book was by no means a cakewalk and I would be lying if I said I understood it all. The first part of the book gently sucks you in as the content feels like a nice refresher on high-school level physics. You think, “Great, I understand this. I got this. I can understand Stephen Hawking, damn I’m smart!”. It is a false hope. sh I do not know the target audience that Hawking was aiming for as some parts of this book break down the concepts so well that any beginner can grasp them but the once the quantum physics comes in and Hawkings starts talking about black holes, he just assumes that his brief intro to physics basics will be enough to understand the hard concepts and theories he then elaborates on for the rest of the novel.

Would I say this book is enjoyable? Not really. Is it worth reading? Yes. Is it important? Yes. Despite its challenges this book is probably as simple as these complex concepts are going to get and it’s mind-blowing to look at our world, space and the universe from this perspective.

“I am just a child who has never grown up. I still keep asking these ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions. Occasionally, I find an answer.”