Review: What We All Long For — Dionne Brand

Read: 4
To Go: 96

Book List:
1. The Reader — Bernhard Schlink
2. The Pilot’s Wife — Anita Shreve
3. Creatures of Light and Darkness — Roger Zelazny
4. What We All Long For — Dionne Brand

9780312377717

I thought I would have been able to finish What We All Long For faster than I did, but I guess it was a busy week. I’ve been reading the story in bits and pieces, a little each day, so I feel like I have sort of a fractured understanding of it. As such, my review might be lacking.

What We All Long For follows Tuyen Vu, a child of Vietnamese immigrants who are still haunted by the day they lost their son, Quy, when they were fleeing the country. Tuyen rejects her family’s comfortable life in Richmond Hill to produce abstract art in a decrepit apartment on College Street, which she shares with her friends, Carla, Oku, and Jackie, who each have complicated home lives. Meanwhile, Quy, taken in by monks as a child, becomes a criminal in the Thai underworld, and comes to Toronto. His arrival is marked by a violent encounter that will permanently affect the lives of Tuyen and her three friends.

I didn’t expect What We All Long For to be so expansive — I assumed the book would focus primarily on Tuyen, Quy, and their family, but it branched out to include the complicated backgrounds of Carla, Oku, and Jackie, and their histories with failure, guilt, and instability. They, along with Tuyen and Quy, were fantastically flawed, nuanced characters — especially Carla, who was a work of art. Her desperation to remain loyal to her mother, and by extension her troubled brother Jamal, to the point of exhaustion, was utterly heartbreaking.

The decision to leave the book’s violent incident to the last pages was a bold move, and a devastating end to the book, which left me reeling. I would have liked to see what happened in the aftermath, but this way it’s left up to the reader to decide.

As a final note: I’m sure you all know by this point that I get unnaturally excited when a book is set in a city that I know. I loved that What We All Long For took place in Toronto, and being able to recognize certain parts of the city in the story.

Next book: The Guilty Plea — Robert Rotenberg

– Kelsey

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