A Canadian novelist addresses his 13-year-old daughter on the complexities of race, bloodlines, history, and privilege.
In his nonfiction debut, Chariandy (English/Simon Fraser Univ.; Brother, 2017, etc.) shares his reflections with his daughter at a particularly pivotal time in her life. After the election of Donald Trump, she had plenty of questions and concerns. Though their native Canada prides itself on being better than the United States on issues of tolerance, shortly after the U.S. election, a murderer “entered a mosque in Quebec City and executed six people who were at their prayers.” The author’s parents were reluctant to share the stories that he feels he must tell his daughter, along with his own. They had been brought to Trinidad as indentured servants and had initially been denied entrance into Canada. Chariandy was born and raised in Toronto, but he never felt accepted or understood as “simply Canadian,” in the way that his Caucasian wife and her patrician family had been for generations. They had met in graduate school, studying literature, where they discovered “a shared passion for broadening, through reading, the cultural and geographic boundaries of what we each knew. This shared passion sustains our relationship, despite what are some rather stark differences in our backgrounds and upbringings.” The author’s daughter likes being known as a tomboy, and much of her fashion sense and attitude come from living along the west coast in Vancouver. They have never really discussed how to categorize her or why. “For some of my relatives, you are Black; for others you are Indian,” he writes. “And as a girl of African, South Asian, and European heritage, some may consider you still another identity, that of being ‘mixed.’ ” Beyond question, this slim volume shows how much she is loved and how concerned her father is for the challenges that await her, some of them the same that he faced.
Chariandy’s perspective challenges conventional notions that Canada is tolerant where the U.S. isn’t and that we have entered an era beyond race and discrimination.