Giller Prize Longlisted: Brother

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“Mesmerizing. Poetic. Achingly soulful. Brother is a pitch-perfect song of masculinity and tenderness, and of the ties of family and community.” Lawrence Hill

I don’t think I could have said it better myself. Although, I used the words current and subtly told to also describe this slight yet powerfully current read.

When I was attending the Penguin Random House Canada offices for their Fall Preview, one claimed (I’m honestly sorry, I didn’t write her name down!) this was going to win the Giller this year. Emphasis on going to be and will be winning for sure. This is only the 2nd of the Longlisted titles I’ve read, but I do see this as a strong front-runner, and for certain should make the Shortlist announcement on October 2nd.

Marlon James is also blurbed on the front, “A brilliant, powerful elegy from a living brother to a lost one, yet pulsing with rhythm, and beating with life.” 

It is all of those things too. Michael and his brother, Francis, are born and raised in Canada, their mother from Trinidad, what was known in her generation as the West Indies. They live in the not so wonderful part of a neighbourhood called The Park in Scarborough, Ontario (just outside of Toronto). Known as Scarberia (a name I’ve heard often, growing up), Scarlem and Scarbistan. Their mother is often gone, working three jobs in all far-flung parts of the city, often leaving her two boys alone. Her dreams were to come to Canada to finish her nursing degree, but that was never meant to be, sadly, for her.

Are you getting the sense of what their lives have been like? How common their story is? How current and too common their story of being a black or brown person in their community, the look down the noses towards “immigrants” and the constant suspicion of their everyday life and activity by everyone – in the mall, in the store, on the street, by the cops.

We know at the beginning of this story that Michael has lost his brother, Francis. What is slowly unveiled is the why, how and where he was killed. It is a story that is becoming all too increasingly common – this one with a Canadian spin to it, clearly, yet subtly showing a too often told story in the news today.

This is also a great love story to a lost brother – quite honestly it is mainly this love story to Michael’s lost brother – and how his loss has deeply impacted his family, how greatly it has impacted and changed his brother, Michael, the younger brother that so idolized his brother, the impact it has on the community and this too often told story of racism and misunderstanding.

Chariandy writes this story so poetically, yet it is a very subtly told one as well. And therein lies its power. It is this subtle revelation and undercurrent of mistrust and racism that leads to a tragic ending of a young man’s life. This is the subtly told and quiet aspect of this story. The beating heart of it is the loss of a beloved brother on a young man’s life.

I was halfway through reading Brother, when I watched Trevor Noah’s (incredible) breakdown of the video on The Daily News, of the shooting of Philando Castile, a black man in the United States that was killed by a police officer – shot 4 times while sitting in his car with his girlfriend and her two-year-old daughter, at what was supposed to be a routine traffic stop. It was heartbreaking, and when you read Brother alongside this, it becomes a terribly sad and sorrowful story – one where this fear of skin colour has become overwhelming.

Brother is under 200 pages in length, and one strongly encouraged to read – soon. It won’t take you very long to read it, but it will leave a permanent mark on your soul (or at least I would really hope it does).