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. 

canada-reads-2019-lisa-ray
“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.

Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O’Neil

We were just acting out the strangest, tragic little roles, pretending to be criminals in order to get by. We gave very convincing performances.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 368 pages.
Read from June 4, 2018 to June 14, 2018.

This book has been heralded with awards and accolades for its unique and outspoken story about Baby, a twelve-year-old girl just trying to make sense of the world and how she fits into it.

Baby is her name. Her real name, not some cute nickname. Baby’s parents were very young when they had her with her mother exiting from her life at an early age. Jules, Baby’s father, loves her but unfortunately, he seems to love heroin more. Jules does the best he can but often finds himself in less than ideal situations for raising a child. While Baby is on the cusp of leaving her childhood behind her, she tells her story with the frankness that can only come from that of a child yet she is slowly becoming more aware of how abnormal her life is with her father as she ages. While there are many pervasive aspects to this novel involving sexuality, drugs and prostitution, the quirky and honest way that Baby delivers her story makes for an enthralling combination of awe, shock and amusement.

“Suddenly I realized that I wanted everything to be as it was when I was younger. When you’re young enough, you don’t know that you live in a cheap lousy apartment. A cracked chair is nothing other than a chair. A dandelion growing out of a crack in the side walk outside your front door is a garden. You could believe that a song your partner was singing in the evening was the most tragic opera in the world. It never occurs to you when you are very young to need something other than what your parents have to offer you.”

The success of this book comes with how the author has delivered it in combination with some beautiful, and at times, poignant writing. Baby’s understanding and sense of the world is appropriate for her age yet reflective and insightful enough to engage any reader. Even if you had the idea of a normal childhood, the delivery of Baby’s story will still appeal to you because of how she approaches childhood and the insights she has on it. Childhood, in many ways, is horrible and magnificent time, which is reflective of the tone of this book. It is a portion of our lives that we can truly never ever relive or experience again for better and for worse.

“As a kid, you have nothing to do with the way the world is run; you just have to hurry to catch up with it.”

I thoroughly enjoyed Baby’s story and found the book to be highly readable and engaging. I think most fiction lovers will appreciate this quirky, awkward and honest rendition of a peculiar and traumatizing childhood.

No One Writes to the Colonel Anymore by Gabriel García Márquez

“The only thing that comes for sure is death, colonel”

3/5 stars.
Paperback, 170 pages.
Read from January 16, 2018 to January 19, 2018.

Márquez has been on my TBR list for way too long. This novel was a gift and a perfect way to start reading this phenomenal author. Márquez won the Nobel prize for literature in 1982 and has been praised as one of “the most significant authors of the 20th century“.

An elderly and unnamed colonel and his wife live in a small village in Columbia during the 1970s. Columbia is in the midst of a civil war that spans nearly a decade and is called the “La Violencia Era” and the country is being governed by martial law as result. The novel opens with the colonel attending the funeral of an older man who has died of natural causes, an event that has not happened in a while, making the funeral a somewhat happier and noteworthy event. The colonel spends his days waiting for his pension that he earned during his service in the military. Each day he checks with the postman to see if it has arrived but to no avail, with the country in upheaval, pensions are not a top priority.

Unfortunately, as he and his wife are elderly, they need that money in order to survive as their funds are slowly dwindling. His wife begins to sell their prized possessions to make ends meet and to make matters worse for the couple, their son is believed to be dead as a result of the current war. The colonel has been taking care of his son’s fighting rooster as there is a fight scheduled in the near future. The wife wants the colonel to sell the rooster but the colonel cannot part with it. He claims it is because there is a lot of people who have bet money on the upcoming fight and that they might make some money if the rooster wins but, in reality, the colonel has not given up hope that his son will return.

The story of the colonel is a mix of tragedy and the awful realities of war but ultimately it is about hope. The colonel has lost his purpose in life but has not given up hope that things will turn around. He has to, as hope is all he has left.  The rooster becomes the colonel’s metaphor and symbol of his hope. Even at the end when he and wife have next to nothing he still insists on feeding and caring for the rooster, much to his wife’s dismay.

Márquez has a distinct, brusque and masculine style of writing that lends itself well to the emotional subtleties of his characters and the bitterness of a setting stricken with the pains of war and poverty. Indeed, Márquez’s prose is gorgeous, even in translation.  If you are not paying attention to this carefully worded story, however, you may misplace or not understand the colonel’s attachment to the rooster and thereby not see or enjoy the beautiful pinnacle of this story.

This book is a quick read and seems like a good place to start if you have not read anything by Márquez, as some of his works, like One Hundred Years of Solitude, are quite lengthy.  One Hundred Years of Solitude will be my next read by Márquez as this short novel has given me a desire to read more of Márquez’s outstanding writing style.