How I Wrote It

How David Chariandy brought his novel Brother to life

Brother is on the Canada Reads 2019 longlist.
David Chariandy is the author of Brother. (Joy van Tiedemann/Penguin Random House Canada)

David Chariandy is the author of Brother, which won the $50,000 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize.

Brother takes us inside the lives of two brothers, the mixed-heritage sons of Trinidadian immigrants. Their father has disappeared and their mother works double, sometimes triple, shifts so her boys might fulfil the elusive promise of their adopted home in the Toronto suburb of Scarborough. The story is rooted in Chariandy's own experience growing up as a person of colour in early 1990s Toronto.

Brother is on the Canada Reads 2019 longlist. The final five books and the panellists defending them will be revealed on Jan. 31, 2019. The 2019 debates are happening March 25-28, 2019 and will be hosted by Ali Hassan.

In his own words, Chariandy talks about how Brother came to be.

Verisimilitude versus reality

"I'm a fiction writer and this is clearly the work of the imagination. It's set in a time period that is very different from today's world. But I still wanted to capture what Scarborough was really like for a child in the early 1990s, particularly a child with a black mother and a South Asian father growing up at that particular time.

"There was, at that time, a lot of anxiety about visible minorities moving into the area and changing the landscape. I grew up hearing these stories — about people I love and respect, who were profoundly creative and hardworking and simply had dreams of living a good life. These stories are often overlooked and ignored. I wanted to capture this narrative, one of resilience, creativity, tenderness and love."

Taking the time to get it right

"This book, and my first book, Soucouyant, took years to write. The time between this book and the previous one is 10 years, almost exactly. I wanted to do justice to these stories. How do you adequately tell the story of the resilience of mothers, of everyday youth and of these particular communities? I had to be careful about what I was emphasizing. People living in specific communities are experiencing multiple forms of violence. This includes young black men. That is the reality — but it is the occasion upon which to tell a greater story. That story is about creativity, resilience and genius."

Celebrating life

"I didn't assume that this would be an easy thing. But I'm able to understand different perspectives. This story is told by the protagonist, Michael, who is observing to the best of his ability. He is imagining what his mother might be going through. But it was still a very difficult thing to capture.

"Although Brother is about the violent conditions in which certain people live, my hope is that the novel represents and celebrates life and creativity under these circumstances."

David Chariandy's comments have been edited and condensed.

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