Thursday, January 15, 2009

What We All Long For by Dionne Brand

Review and Giveaway

What We All Long For by Dionne Brand

St. Martin’s Griffin (November 25, 2008)

Fiction, Paperback 336 pgs.

This is a guest review written by Dawn of She is Too Fond of Books.

"They all…felt as if they inhabited two countries - their parents’ and their own - when they sat dutifully at their kitchen tables being regaled with how life used to be “back home,”…They thought that their parents had scales on their eyes. Sometimes they wanted to shout at them, “Well, you’re not there!”…Each left home in the morning as if making a long journey, untangling themselves from the seaweed of other shores wrapped around their parents. Breaking their doorways, they left the sleepwalk of their mothers and fathers and ran across the unobserved borders of the city…to arrive at their own birthplace…They were born in the city from people born elsewhere."

Dionne Brand’s What We All Long For is described as “a raw novel of bittersweet youthfulness.” Set in the spring of 2002, this is an amazing story of four second-generation Torontonians in their mid-twenties. They share a strong desire to break free from the past - from their parents’ view of the past which anchors them, and from their personal family stories which shape them.

The four main characters:

* - Tuyen - an installation artist who lives in a walk-up apartment she has converted to a work studio, returning to her parents’ home only when she is in desperate need of cash. Tuyen was born in Toronto after her family escaped Vietnam in 1980. In the chaos of the evacuation, Tuyen’s brother Quy (a young boy about 4 years old) went missing. Her life has been shaped by her parents’ fruitless long-distance search for him.

* - Carla - lives across the hall from Tuyen, and is the subject of her unrequited love. For reasons that are revealed as the story progresses, Carla feels responsible for her younger brother, who is often in trouble with the law. She has a strained relationship with her father, and an ambivalent attitude toward her step-mother.

* - Oku - a would-be poet and musician. At age 25, Oku mimes attending college, although he has recently dropped out of a Master’s program for English Literature. He is in love with Jackie, who teases him and flaunts her relationship with another man.

* - Jackie - she is probably the least-developed of the main characters, perhaps more of a place-holder for Oku’s love interest. Fifteen years earlier she took a train from Halifax to Toronto, where her parents promptly found low-income housing and started a routine of leaving her with neighbors to hit the clubs and dance and party the night away.

Brand doesn’t visit the Toronto of white-collar business and tourism; she explores the daily grind and the dark alleys of the city. These four and their companions spend nights drinking, smoking and hooking up. Slowly and carefully she reveals more and more of their personal histories as she follows them making their way in the present day. As the novel progresses, the four do indeed discover and confront what they each long for; we are left not with a neat and tidy ending, but with a faint hope for better times.

Interestingly, although the majority of the novel is told in third-person narration, there are several chapters narrated in the first-person by Quy, Tuyen’s missing brother. These chapters are left-justified only, leaving raw ragged edges on the right-hand side, which mirror the turbulent tale he tells.I found What We All Long For to be an engaging and unique work of fiction.

Author Dionne Brand was born and raised in Trinidad, moving to Canada at age 18 to attend Toronto University. She has won several awards for her poetry collection, Land to Light On; her novel In Another Place, Not Here was on the short-list for two awards. She has published one other novel, At the Full and Change of the Moon, and two works of non-fiction. What We All Long For was originally published in hardcover in 2005 and will be released in paperback by St. Martin’s Griffin imprint on November 25, 2008.

Thank you Dawn. She is Too Fond Of Books is Dawn's bookblog where she writes about both fiction and non fiction.

If you would like to do a guest blog, past reviews and article are accepted, please email me at sfuhringer (AT) sympatico (DOT)ca.

I read What We All Long For too and highly recommend it. I don't usually relate well to the very young in fiction, in this case early twenties, but this story had me from the beginning. Very well written, Brand made me feel the loneliness, frustration, joy, satisfaction, or worries of these characters. And she had inner city Toronto and immigrant life, as well as first generation young people down pat. Quite an accomplishment.

I'm offering an ARC copy of What We All Long For by Dionne Brand to one of my readers. I did not receive it as a book to review but through Bookmooch as something I wanted to read. So, it's been read twice but it's a clean copy.

To enter:

1) Tell us the best book of Canadian literary fiction you've read. Either written by a Canadian or set in Canada is acceptable.

2)Blog about this giveaway and put a link back to it and I'll give you a second entry. If you don't have a blog, email 3 friends telling them about this giveaway and copying me at sfuhringer (at) sympatico (dot) ca.

Entry is open worldwide until midnight Sunday January 25, 2009.Be sure to leave an email address if you don't have a blog where I can contact you.Winner will be announced on Monday January 26, 2009.


  1. This sounds pretty good. I've had it on hold at the library. I would sign up for your contest but I don't read many Canadian lit to have a favorite. Great review. =)

  2. The book sounds really good. I like the way the paragraph provided looks how in one family you can have two different cultures inhabiting the same space.
    I have only read one Canadian author and that was L.M Montgomery with her Anne of Green Gables series. I will now have to look up Canadian authors and see if there are any others I would like to read.

  3. Hi Sandra, I have awarded you the Well Worth Watching award as I do so enjoy your blog. Stop by and pick up the logo details. Have a great week!

  4. The book the movie "Field of Dreams" was made from "Shoeless Joe" by W.P. Kinsella.
    Good question!
    Anyways, I'd lke to read this book so please enter me!
    Thanks so much
    darbyscloset at yahoo dot com

  5. This sounds wonderful! Multicultural and immigrant stories always seem to appeal to me. I'd love to have my name in for a chance to win it.

    Off the top of my head, some of my favourite Canadian literary fiction novels have been A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews, Deafening by Frances Itani or either of the books by Ann-Marie MacDonald.
    As for set in Canada by a non-Canadian author, I really enjoyed The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney when I read it last year.

    (tanabata2000 at gmail dot com)

  6. Anne of Green Gables by L.M.Montgomery.

    Elaine R

  7. I would love to win this book! Boy, name just one book for best Canadian fiction. I have so many favorites! How about River Thieves
    by Michael Crummey.

    I blogged about your giveaway here:

  8. I've not read much Canadian lit (too bad, since I love Canada)... great review.

  9. I hate to say Anne of Green Gables, but I read the entire series as a kid and absolutely loved it. We used to have an old VHS of the movie that was watched over and over again!

    Thanks for the giveaway!

  10. I've read a lot of Canadian fiction that I've enjoyed but a recent one that I LOVED is Entitlement by Jonathan Bennett. Thanks for the giveaway :)

  11. My favourite Canadian lit book was "A Good House" by Bonnie was a captivating book...satisfies two criteria written by a Canadian and set in London,Ontario!!



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