In the tradition of Ta-Nehisi Coates's Between the World and Me and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, acclaimed novelist David Chariandy's latest is an intimate and profoundly beautiful meditation on the politics of race today.
When a moment of quietly ignored bigotry prompted his three-year-old daughter to ask "what happened?" David Chariandy began wondering how to discuss with his children the politics of race. A decade later, in a newly heated era of both struggle and divisions, he writes a letter to his now thirteen-year-old daughter. David is the son of Black and South Asian migrants from Trinidad, and he draws upon his personal and ancestral past, including the legacies of slavery, indenture, and immigration, as well as the experiences of growing up a visible minority within the land of one's birth. In sharing with his daughter his own story, he hopes to help cultivate within her a sense of identity and responsibility that balances the painful truths of the past and present with hopeful possibilities for the future.
About the author
David Chariandy lives in Vancouver and teaches in the Department of English at Simon Fraser University. His novel Soucouyant has received great attention, including a Governor General's Literary Award nomination for Fiction, a Gold Independent Publisher Award for Best Novel, and the Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist. His most recent novel, Brother, won the 2017 Rogers Writers' Trust of Canada Prize for Fiction.
Excerpt: I've Been Meaning to Tell You: A Letter to My Daughter (by (author) David Chariandy)
Once, when you were three, we made a trip out for lunch. We bussed west in our city, to one of those grocery-store buffets serving the type of food my own parents would scorn. Those overpriced organics laid out thinly in brushed-steel trays, the glass sneeze guard just high enough for you, dearest daughter, to dip your head beneath it in assessing, suspiciously, the “browned rice” and “free-range carrots.” And in that moment, I could imagine myself a father long beyond the grip of history, and now caring for his loved one through kale and quinoa anda soda boasting “real cane sugar.”
But we’re both dessert people, a soda won’t cut it, and so we shared a big piece of chocolate cake. “It’s good for you,” you giggled. “Chocolate cake is very, very good for you.” You squirmed away as I tried to wipe your mouth, laughing at all of my best efforts. It was an ordinary moment. And an ordinary thirst was brought on by the thick sweet of the cake, and so I stood and moved towards the nearby tap to get us both a glass of water, encountering a woman on her way to do the same thing. She was nicely dressed, a light summer cream suit, little makeup, tasteful. We reached the tap at roughly the same time. I hesitated out of a politeness, and this very gesture seemed only to irritate her. She shouldered herself in front of me, and when filling her glass of water, she half turned to explain, “I was born here. I belong here.”
Her voice was loud. She meant to be overheard, to provoke agreement, maybe, although the people lunching around us reacted only by focusing harder upon their own bowls and plates. And you, my daughter, sitting closest, didn’t understand, or else you didn’t even hear. You were still in a moment of joy, your own laughter filling your ears, the dark frosting between your teeth, and so I decided. I waited patiently to fill our glasses. I walked carefully back to you, never spilling a drop. I sat. I might have tried to match your smile. I might have attempted once more to wipe your mouth, or asked you to take a sip of water to prevent dehydration, the latest foolish fear of parents like me. I don’t remember. I sometimes find myself in this state during the course of an ordinary day. I was lost in thought and quiet, even after I caught your hand waving beforemy eyes. Your face now cross and confused. “Hey,” you asked, “what happened?”
Praise for I've Been Meaning to Tell You:
“Poetic and moving, a slim but weighty book that excavates things often left unsaid.” —Globe and Mail