Why David Chariandy wrote about 'the resilience, the imagination, the sheer intelligence' of Scarborough

The novelist's latest, Brother, follows a family trying to get by in a troubled Toronto neighbourhood.
Brother is David Chariandy's second novel. (Joy van Tiedemann/Penguin Random House Canada)

David Chariandy's debut novel, Soucouyantwas longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, and was a finalist for Governor General's Award for fiction when it came out in 2007. We've been waiting 10 years for its follow-up and Chariandy finally delivers with his newest work, the novel Brother. Brother takes us inside the lives of Michael and Francis. They are the 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. Brother won the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize in 2017.

Giving a voice to the voiceless

"The story represents communities that have often been misrepresented and people in them who have often been misrepresented. I wanted to take care to represent those very same communities and people in ways that drew attention to the resilience, the imagination, the sheer intelligence of individuals in Scarborough."

The role of mothers 

"The black mothers that I know, and that I have admired all of my life, are incredibly hard working, sacrificial, incredibly smart and resilient in the face of many different challenges: finding employment, providing for their children, cultivating hope when the children often times do not immediately feel a sense of hope for themselves or for their families."   

Exploring masculinity

"I would describe Brother as two different scripts of masculinity. The two boys are equally trying to figure out what it means to be young, what it means to be a man, but they arrive at very different notions of what that means. For one boy, the youngest, the person who tells the story, being a man means negotiating feelings of vulnerability. For the older brother, being a man means adopting postures of toughness. Much of the novel is about moving between these two equally valid scripts of masculinity."

The shadow of suspicion 

"I think it's a metaphor for the way certain youths — youth of colour or black youths — feel, regardless whether or not there's been a shooting in their neighbourhood. There's a shadow of suspicion cast upon them in their everyday lives. This feeling is disturbingly common, I believe, at least it was that way for me growing up."    

David Chariandy's comments have been edited and condensed.