What We All Long For


321 pages
ISBN 0-676-97167-9
DDC C813'.54




Reviewed by Carol A. Stos

Carol A. Stos is an assistant professor in the Department of Modern
Languages and Literatures at Laurentian University.


Dionne Brand’s fourth novel deals with relationships and that means
it’s about families and friends, places and spaces both geographical
and emotional, mis/communication, dis/connections, and chance. It was
just by chance that six-year-old Quy, escaping war-torn Vietnam with his
family, mistakenly boarded the wrong boat. Some 30 years later his loss
still haunts his family, now relocated in Toronto. Brand uses the story
of Quy’s loss, his parents’ search for him, and his survival as a
part of the criminal underworld to frame the lives of Tuyen, his
Canadian-born artist sister, and her friends Carla (a bike courier),
Jackie (the owner of a second-hand clothing shop), and Oku (a poet,
great cook, and Masters in English Literature dropout). Their lives are
complemented and complicated by each other and by the tangled emotions
that simultaneously unite them with and alienate them from their

Tuyen’s parents, hardworking restaurateurs, still have sleepless
nights because of losing Quy, and their remaining children all bear the
burden of being present in his absence. Carla’s mother is the restless
ghost of a memory, her brother Jamal is in jail, her father and his
other family “who took both Carla and Jamal in” are the family Carla
doesn’t want but has. Jackie’s parents, black Nova Scotians who came
to Toronto in their youth, full of love and hope, have watched their
pleasures disappear and their dreams die. Oku’s father and mother work
hard, cautiously live within their limits, supporting yet fearing for
their son and his ambitions. When Quy is found, his re-entry into the
lives of his family brings the novel to a shocking and violent climax
that will further complicate the links of love and friendship among
Tuyen and her friends.

Brand writes with a sensitive yet fearless command of language that
evokes every nuance of feeling. Her characters—and Toronto figures as
one of them—are vivid, real, and vulnerable. This novel, with its
multiple narratives, explores the tensions and intricacies of our
relationships with ourselves and with others in a way that is both
personal and political. You’ll want to read it a second time.


Brand, Dionne., “What We All Long For,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 15, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/15051.