Thunder Bay

'Lives of great beauty' examined in David Chariandy's Canada Reads-nominated 'Brother'

The value of shared experiences in helping individuals from different backgrounds come together was the theme Monday as approximately 70 people gathered at a Thunder Bay, Ont., library to discuss David Chariandy's Brother, one of five books to be debated during Canada Reads on CBC Radio.

70 people pack Thunder Bay, Ont., public library to hear author share thoughts on acclaimed novel

Author David Chariandy (left) and Colleen Peters, president of the Caribbean African Multicultural Association of Thunder Bay helped lead a discussion Monday in Thunder Bay, Ont., about his Canada Reads-nominated novel 'Brother'. (Cathy Alex/CBC )

The value of shared experiences in helping individuals, from different backgrounds, and communities come together was the theme Monday evening as approximately 70 people gathered at the Mary J.L. Black Library in Thunder Bay, Ont.,  to discuss Brother, a novel by David Chariandy and one of five books to be debated during Canada Reads 2019 on CBC Radio One.

Chariandy was joined onstage by Colleen Peters, the president of the Caribbean African Multicultural Association of Thunder Bay.

Brother tells the story of Ruth – an immigrant from Trinidad – and her two sons, Michael and Francis, who dies a tragic and violent death.

The book examines racism, grief, memory, and the love that holds families together, but can also tear them apart.

'Making sure we didn't miss our opportunity'

Peters, whose mother is from Poland while her father is from Jamaica, said the novel spoke to her as a first-generation Canadian.

"It made me want to call my parents, and say thank you, and recognize that the life they left behind, they may have thought they were coming to something better and that may not have translated into exactly what they wanted.. but it was about making sure we didn't miss our opportunity."

She also felt the book has much to teach a city like Thunder Bay, which is struggling with issues such as systemic racism and attempts to build a stronger relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

"Let's talk about community inside a community. Let's talk about some of the political issues that we're experiencing today and how we can't give up, and we have to fight," she said. 

Being 'more than what the outside world thinks'

Another of the lessons Peters said she takes from the book is "a couple of incidents don't define a generation or a youth, especially those that are experiencing some of those systemic issues."

"We're more than what others think, and Thunder Bay is more than what the outside world thinks and there's a lot of opportunity and potential here and we should share that not only with ourselves, but with the world."

Chariandy expressed his gratitude that his book has become a Canada Reads finalist, and that so many people, in so many different cities and countries are finding something of meaning and value in his words.

"In Trinidad, they're interested in the sense that this a story about the Caribbean diaspora, in the U.S. they're interested in it being a story of the Black experience in America, ... and in other places it's about the mixed race experience."

The 'luminescent, beautiful difference' between lives

But Chariandy said his intent with the novel was not to write just about the "hardship and pain" of one family.

Instead he hoped to shine a light on these "lives of great beauty" that are frequently overlooked.

Approximately 70 people attended Monday's event to discuss Chariandy's book,"Brother." Near the end of the event, one audience member told Chariandy that she was "moved to tears," while reading his book as it reminded her of a similar past event in her life. (Christina Jung / CBC)

"This is why I read books," he said. "I know what it is to be touched by particular people's lives, in their connection to my life, but equally in their difference, that luminescent, beautiful difference from my life."

Canada Reads begins on CBC Radio One on Monday March 25.