What We All Long for: A Novel

Front Cover
A.A. Knopf Canada, 2005 - Fiction - 319 pages
18 Reviews
“They were born in the city from people born elsewhere.”

What We All Long For follows the overlapping stories of a close circle of second-generation twenty-somethings living in downtown Toronto. There’s Tuyen, a lesbian avant-garde artist and the daughter of Vietnamese parents who’ve never recovered from losing one of their children in the crush to board a boat out of Vietnam in the 1970s. Tuyen defines herself in opposition to just about everything her family believes in and strives for. She’s in love with her best friend Carla, a biracial bicycle courier, who’s still reeling from the loss of her mother to suicide eighteen years earlier and who must now deal with her brother Jamal’s latest acts of delinquency. Oku is a jazz-loving poet who, unbeknownst to his Jamaican-born parents, has dropped out of university. He is in constant conflict with his narrow-minded and verbally abusive father and tormented by his unrequited love for Jackie, a gorgeous black woman who runs a hip clothing shop on Queen Street West and dates only white men. Like each of her friends, Jackie feels alienated from her parents, former hipsters from Nova Scotia who never made it out of subsidized housing after their lives became entangled with desire and disappointment.

The four characters try to make a life for themselves in the city, supporting one another through their family struggles.

There’s a fifth main character, Quy, the child who Tuyen’s parents lost in Vietnam. In his first-person narrative, Quy describes how he survived in various refugee camps, then in the Thai underworld. After years of being hardened, he has finally made his way to Toronto and will soon be reunited with his family – whether to love them or hurt them, it’s not clear. His story builds to a breathless crescendo in an ending that will both shock and satisfy readers.

What We All Long For is a gripping and, at times, heart-rending story about identity, longing and loss in a cosmopolitan city. No other writer has presented such a powerful and richly textured portrait of present-day Toronto. Rinaldo Walcott writes in The Globe and Mail: “… every great city has its literary moments, and contemporary Toronto has been longing for one. We can now say with certainty that we no longer have to long for a novel that speaks this city’s uniqueness: Dionne Brand has given us exactly that.” Donna Bailey Nurse writes in the National Post: “What We All Long For is a watershed novel. From now on, Canadian writers will be pressed to portray contemporary Toronto in all its multiracial colour and polyphonic sound.”

But What We All Long For is not only about a particular city. It’s about the universal experience of being human. As Walcott puts it, “Brand makes us see ourselves differently and anew. She translates our desires and experiences into a language, an art that allows us to voice that which we live, but could not utter or bring to voice until she did so for us.”


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I fell for Brand's unique and beautiful poetic prose. - Goodreads
The ending is surprisingly weak. - Goodreads
Serious lack of character development left me cold. - Goodreads
Like a different author started writing. - Goodreads
This is clear in her writing. - Goodreads

Review: What We All Long For

User Review  - Calla - Goodreads

I'm not sure what I long for, but it's not endless exposition, next to no plot and then no satisfying resolution of the little plot there is. On the positive side, I found the characters to be very ... Read full review

Review: What We All Long For

User Review  - Wendy G - Goodreads

One could say that I loved this book because I am biased toward Vietnamese-themed stuff. But that's not why I loved this book. I loved it because of how thoughtfully the author treats subjects who ... Read full review

Contents

Section 1
1
Section 2
11
Section 3
27
Copyright

30 other sections not shown

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About the author (2005)

As a young girl growing up in Trinidad, Dionne Brand submitted poems to the newspapers under the pseudonym Xavier Simone, an homage to Nina Simone, whom she would listen to late at night on the radio. Brand moved to Canada when she was 17 to attend the University of Toronto, where she earned a degree in Philosophy and English, a Masters in the Philosophy of Education and pursued PhD studies in Women’s History but left the program to make time for creative writing.

Dionne Brand first came to prominence in Canada as a poet. Her books of poetry include No Language Is Neutral, a finalist for the Governor General’s Award, and Land to Light On, winner of the Governor General’s Award and the Trillium Award and thirsty, finalist for the Griffin Prize and winner of the Pat Lowther Award for poetry. Brand is also the author of the acclaimed novels In Another Place, Not Here, which was shortlisted for the Chapters/Books in Canada First Novel Award and the Trillium Award, and At the Full and Change of the Moon. Her works of non-fiction include Bread Out of Stone and A Map to the Door of No Return.

What We All Long For was published to great critical acclaim in 2005. While writing the novel, Brand would find herself gazing out the window of a restaurant in the very Toronto neighbourhood occupied by her characters. “I’d be looking through the window and I’d think this is like the frame of the book, the frame of reality: ‘There they are: a young Asian woman passing by with a young black woman passing by, with a young Italian man passing by,” she says in an interview with The Toronto Star. A recent Vanity Fair article quotes her as saying “I’ve ‘read’ New York and London and Paris. And I thought this city needs to be written like that, too.”

In addition to her literary accomplishments, Brand is Professor of English in the School of English and Theatre Studies at the University of Guelph.


From the Trade Paperback edition.

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