Magazine article Women & Environments International Magazine

What We All Long For

Magazine article Women & Environments International Magazine

What We All Long For

Article excerpt

WHAT WE ALL LONG FOR By Dionne Brand. Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 2005. CAD 29.95 cloth (ISBN: 0-676-97167-9), 319 pages.

Dionne Brand's latest novel is indeed What We All Long For in a book: magic writing, heartbreakingly strong and vulnerable characters, haunting themes that linger long after all the pages have been turned, and a nail-biting plot. What We All Long For follows the lives of four young friends living in Toronto. Tuyen, installation artist and sister of a boy lost in her family's shuffle from Vietnam to Toronto, lives in a wreck of an apartment on College Street. Carla, Tuyen's love, has the apartment next door. Carla rides her bike around the city at lightning speed, but still cannot shake the grip of her mother's ghost, her desire to save her brother, or her own pain. Their poet friend Oku packs his bag for school every day, though he dropped out months ago. Oku loves beautiful Jackie, who owns a second-hand clothing store and appears to be steely calm. The four met in high school, all of them having learned early on that fitting in is not so easy when your skin is wrong, all of them bored with the prejudices of high school (like when the phys. ed. teacher asked studious - and black - Oku to run track), and all of them unwilling to bend into shape for a system that refuses them room to breathe. Though they don't talk about it much, the friends' lives and selves are indelibly marked by the racism of dominant Canadian culture, and it is in part their outsider status that brings them together. But it is not only this. Brand's characters are, more than anything else, alive and young, full of each other and of possibility.

Brand writes Toronto beautifully. The city is raw, violent and vibrant, containing endless possibility, but also so much pain. Yet somehow people get by in the city. The Toronto of Brand's novel is not a passive backdrop to the action of the characters, but exists as a force in its own right. …

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