Tag Archives: David Chariandy

Paperbacks to Look Out for in April 2019: Part One

Cover imageI’m delighted to tell you that whereas there were just a few brand spanking new titles that took my fancy for April, it’s choc-a-bloc with tasty-looking paperbacks most of which I’ve yet to read. I’ll begin with one that I have: David Chariandy’s Brother, an eloquent story of grief and loss set against a backdrop of urban immigrant poverty. Returning to her home town, Aisha finds that Michael has become a recluse since the death of his brother Francis in a shooting ten years ago and is determined to bring him back into the world. Exploring themes of grief, racism and social deprivation while weaving Michael’s memories of Francis through Aisha’s visit, Brother packs a quietly powerful punch for such a short book.

Having been shortlisted for a multitude of literary prizes, including the Man Booker, Esi Edugyan’s Washington Black won the 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize for which Brother was longlisted in 2017. The eponymous eleven-year-old is chosen as a personal servant to one of the brothers who have taken over a Barbados sugar plantation, a man obsessed with the idea of flying which results in disaster for him. ‘From the blistering cane fields of Barbados to the icy wastes of the Canadian Arctic, from the mud-drowned streets of London to the eerie deserts of Morocco, Washington Black teems with all the strangeness and mystery of life’ say the publishers.

Carys Davies’ West sounds entirely different but has also met with a great deal of acclaim. When widower Cy Bellman hears of the discovery of huge ancient bones in Kentucky he takes himself off to investigate, leaving his young daughter behind in Pennsylvania. Davies’ novel tells the story of Cy’s journey and of Bess, waiting at home for his return. ‘Written with compassionate tenderness and magical thinking, it explores the courage of conviction, the transformative power of grief, the desire for knowledge and the pull of home, from an exceptionally talented and original British writer’ say the publishers promisingly.Cover image

Thomas Bourke’s The Consolation of Maps seems to explore similar themes of loss and the desire for knowledge. Kenji Tenabe sells antique maps in a prestigious Tokyo gallery but is presented with an unexpected offer of a job in America working for a woman who has never recovered from the death of her lover. ‘Moving across countries and cultures, The Consolation of Maps charts an attempt to understand the tide of history, the geography of people and the boundless territory of loss’ say the publishers which sounds interesting if a little woolly.

Louisa Hall’s Trinity is about the pursuit of a different kind of knowledge, telling the story of Robert Oppenheimer, who oversaw the development of the atomic bomb, from the perspective of seven fictional characters and revealing the contradictory nature of this brilliant scientist. ‘Blending science with literature and fiction with biography, Trinity asks searing questions about what it means to truly know someone, and about the secrets we keep from the world and from ourselves’ according to the blurb. It sounds fascinating and Annabel’s review over at Annabookbel has whetted my appetite further. I’ve not read much fiction about the development of the bomb which shaped the second half of the twentieth century apart from TaraShea Nesbit’s The Wives of Los Alamos, Lydia Millett’s Oh Pure and Radiant Heart and Joseph Kanon’s Los Alamos.

Cover imageI’ll end this first instalment with Gun Love by Jennifer Clement, author of the impressive Prayers for the Stolen, published in the UK a few years ago. Fourteen-year-old Pearl lives in the front seat of a wrecked car in a Florida trailer park while her mother lives in the back. Under the driver’s seat sits a gun given to Margot by her boyfriend, a regular visitor to the back seat. ‘Gun Love is a hypnotic story of family, community and violence. Told from the perspective of a sharp-eyed teenager, it exposes America’s love affair with firearms and its painful consequences’ say the publishers. I remember circling Prayers for the Stolen for some time, expecting unremitting grimness given that it was about kidnapped girls but it surprised me, and I’m hoping for the same with this one.

That’s it for the first batch of April’s paperbacks. A click on the first title will take you to my review and to a more detailed synopsis for the other five should any pique your interest. If you’d like to catch up with the month’s new titles they’re here. More soon…

Brother by David Chariandy: ‘Complicated grief’

Cover imageDavid Chariandy’s Brother is the second novel I’ve reviewed this year that I first spotted on Naomi’s Consumed by Ink, hoping that it would buck the British publishing trend of ignoring Canadian gems. The first was Katherena Vermette’s The Break, which lived up to the Margaret Atwood plaudit adorning its cover. Fingers crossed there’ll be more given the excellence of both the Vermette and Chariandy’s eloquent exploration of grief and loss set against a backdrop of urban immigrant poverty.

Michael has cared for his mother since the death of his older brother Francis, shutting himself off from the friends he and Francis once shared. When Aisha contacts him, telling him about her father’s death, he issues an uncharacteristic invitation triggering memories of the years leading up to Francis’ death. Born and raised in Canada, the brothers visited their mother’s Trinidadian home just once. Their Indian father had left when they were barely out of nappies. Determined to lift her two sons out of poverty and sensitive to the judgement of others, Ruth constantly drummed into them strict codes of behaviour and the need to do well at school. Just one year older than Michael, Francis was the cool one growing into a thoughtful man, protective of those he loved yet sassy and adventurous enough to attract the authorities’ attention. A shooting at the development where they lived marked a turning point for him, and for Michael. Francis began to spend more time with his friends, listening to music and falling in love with Jelly, a brilliant DJ in the making. When Aisha comes home, ten years after Francis’ death, it’s Jelly she invites back to the apartment Michael shares with his mother. Her clear-eyed perception offers Michael a way out of the cage of grief he’s locked himself into.

Brother packs a quietly powerful punch for such a short book. Chariandy explores themes of grief, racism and social deprivation, weaving. Michael’s memories of Francis through Aisha’s visit. The introductory page sets the tone for evocative often understated prose which ranges from the colourful – I will beat you so hard your children will bear scars. Your children’s children will feel! – to poetic observation: It was difficult not to feel something for him sitting there, catching snatches of sleep, other times growing old in the squinting smoke while the orders were shouted at him. Chariandy’s characterisation is both astute and compassionate: it’s impossible not to care deeply about what happens to these two young men, both bright and ambitious but thwarted by their circumstances. Brother was longlisted for last year’s Scotiabank Giller Prize, an award well worth looking out for. Competition must have been very stiff indeed for this beautifully crafted piece of fiction not to have made it onto the shortlist.

That’s it from me for a week or so. After a rather tough winter, H and I are off to Spain tomorrow evening in the hope of catching some sun, a bit of culture and reading one or two books.