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What We All Long forby Dionne Brand
Synopses & Reviews
They were born in the city from people born elsewhere.
What We All Long For follows the overlapping stories of a close circle of second-generation twenty-somethings living in downtown Toronto. There' s Tuyen, a lesbian avant-garde artist and the daughter of Vietnamese parents who' ve never recovered from losing one of their children in the crush to board a boat out of Vietnam in the 1970s. Tuyen defines herself in opposition to just about everything her family believes in and strives for. She' s in love with her best friend Carla, a biracial bicycle courier, who' s still reeling from the loss of her mother to suicide eighteen years earlier and who must now deal with her brother Jamal' s latest acts of delinquency. Oku is a jazz-loving poet who, unbeknownst to his Jamaican-born parents, has dropped out of university. He is in constant conflict with his narrow-minded and verbally abusive father and tormented by his unrequited love for Jackie, a gorgeous black woman who runs a hip clothing shop on Queen Street West and dates only white men. Like each of her friends, Jackie feels alienated from her parents, former hipsters from Nova Scotia who never made it out of subsidized housing after their lives became entangled with desire and disappointment.
The four characters try to make a life for themselves in the city, supporting one another through their family struggles.
There' s a fifth main character, Quy, the child who Tuyen' s parents lost in Vietnam. In his first-person narrative, Quy describes how he survived in various refugee camps, then in the Thai underworld. After years of being hardened, he has finallymade his way to Toronto and will soon be reunited with his family - whether to love them or hurt them, it' s not clear. His story builds to a breathless crescendo in an ending that will both shock and satisfy readers.
What We All Long For is a gripping and, at times, heart-rending story about identity, longing and loss in a cosmopolitan city. No other writer has presented such a powerful and richly textured portrait of present-day Toronto. Rinaldo Walcott writes in The Globe and Mail: ... every great city has its literary moments, and contemporary Toronto has been longing for one. We can now say with certainty that we no longer have to long for a novel that speaks this city' s uniqueness: Dionne Brand has given us exactly that. Donna Bailey Nurse writes in the National Post: What We All Long For is a watershed novel. From now on, Canadian writers will be pressed to portray contemporary Toronto in all its multiracial colour and polyphonic sound.
But What We All Long For is not only about a particular city. It' s about the universal experience of being human. As Walcott puts it, Brand makes us see ourselves differently and anew. She translates our desires and experiences into a language, an art that allows us to voice that which we live, but could not utter or bring to voice until she did so for us.
"Despite their hip exteriors, the four Toronto 20-somethings at the heart of Brand's solid novel all struggle with issues of race and identity. Tuyen, a lesbian artist, is the daughter of Vietnamese immigrants who still grieve for the son they lost in Vietnam. Carla, a biracial woman, grapples with a misplaced sense of responsibility for her younger brother, Jamal, whose rap sheet is more than Carla can fix. Oku struggles under the watchful, and often resentful, eye of his father, a Jamaican immigrant who feels both threatened and frustrated by his son's poetic aspiration. Jackie, a young black woman whose family came to Toronto from Halifax, vicariously mourns the loss of her parents' youthful dreams. Although the friends have an unspoken rule never to talk of family, the problems of home spill inevitably into their daily lives, culminating in an explosive moment when the families finally meet. Brand's 'slice-of-life' style is often at odds with her melodramatic subject matter. But the emotional depth of her characters provides original insight on the young urban dweller." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Dionne Brand powerfully delves into uncharted aspects of urban life, the bittersweetness of youth, and secrets families try to hide. Tuyen is an aspiring artist and the daughter of Vietnamese parents whove never recovered from losing one of their children while in the rush to flee Vietnam in the 1970s. She rejects her immigrant familys hard-won lifestyle, and instead lives in a rundown apartment with friends—each of whom is grappling with their own familial complexities and heartache.
In turns thrilling and heartbreaking, Tuyens lost brother—who has since become a criminal in the Thai underworld—journeys to Toronto to find his long-lost family. As Quys arrival nears, tensions build, friendships are tested, and an unexpected encounter will forever alter the lives of Tuyen and her friends.
Gripping at times, heartrending at others, What We All Long For is an ode to a generation of longing and identity, and to the rhythms and pulses of a city and its burgeoning, questioning youth.
About the Author
Dionne Brand won the Governor Generals Award for poetry and the Trillium Award in 1997 for Land to Light On. In 2003 she won the Pat Lowther Award for poetry for her book thirsty. Her novels include In Another Place, Not Here and At the Full and Change of the Moon. She lives in Toronto.
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