The complexity of the characters and how every story intertwines so beautifully kept me absolutely riveted to this book! The ending took a somewhat unexpected, yet full-circle turn; making me leave the book feeling both closure, and wondering what would happen next. I dreamt about these characters for days afterwards. The fact that it was based in Toronto was a bonus too. Nice to recognize the places described.
In Dionne Brand's ambitious novel, What We All Long For, the reader is introduced to four Toronto 20-something characters as they explore issues of race and identity and provide friendship to each other. All of the main characters are children of immigrant parents who migrated to Toronto for a "better" life. And while they have agreed to never talk about family, it is their family histories that have shaped who they are and contribute to their identity issues.
Tuyen, a lesbian artist of Vietnamese parents, struggles to be a loyal daughter and sister but wants to be accepted for who she is. Oku struggles with showing his poetic side and walking on the darker side of the law, anything to be out from under the thumb of his Jamaican father. Jackie, a biracial woman, cannot move forward as she feels committed to saving her brother when he does not want to be saved. And Carla is weighed down by her parents not being able to follow through on the dreams that they brought with them from Halifax.
Brand does an excellent job of developing the characters and evoking the essence of Toronto. The reader will see Toronto through the eyes of these young, urban people but the storyline felt stifled as action is slowed to wait on the characters being developed. At times, the reader is left hanging when the storyline of one character quickly changes to another character.
The ending was an unexpected twist as the reader did not see it coming. But it is this unforeseen ending that causes the families to meet. But, alas, the moment comes and goes too quickly for the reader and the story is over.
I recommend this book to fans of Dionne Brand and readers who like the themes of race, identity, and immigration.
Something I long for in WHAT WE ALL LONG FOR is the passionate engagement with a love of solitude and the genius with language that you find in so many of Brand's other books, for instance this inspired description of when she's living alone in her little house far out in the country in THE MAP TO THE DOOR OF NO RETURN, where she lives among neighbours who love "country music's lonesome and outlaw tenors" and where she scrutinizes "each window's drama of trees and sky", and on summer nights lies "in the very, very dark of the country, the smell of pine and cedar around me, the very quiet of the bush pressing in, and I listen till I fall asleep."
Or when she meditates on the relevance and nature of identity, on her Caribbean childhood, on flame trees that are "at their torrid best in the dry season."
But in WHAT WE ALL LONG FOR I found the novel's landscape (cityscape) too noisy, too populated, too busy for the arid world she ordinarily gives such a depth of emotion to.
Dionne Brand takes the youth of Toronto and brings them to vivid life in this novel about several twenty-somethings living in the city and the way their lives do - and do not - meet.
I felt the main characters to be well-developed and interesting, though some of the secondary characters could have had a bit more depth to them. The motifs of youthfulness, race, and what it is to live in a city were brought to bear skillfully, as was the over-arching theme of longing.