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What We All Long For

3.41  ·  Rating details ·  1,488 ratings  ·  128 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
Paperback, 318 pages
Published December 27th 2005 by Vintage Canada (first published January 11th 2005)
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Average rating 3.41  · 
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 ·  1,488 ratings  ·  128 reviews

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Ben Babcock
Race-conscious and class-conscious but with a young, street-smart cast of characters, What We All Long For should have been amazing. It should have deserved every bit that “Globe and Mail Best Book” seal on its cover. Dionne Brand should have wowed me with her portrayal of first-generation Vietnamese Canadian Tuyen versus Tuyen’s immigrant parents and sisters. The troubled relationship between Carla and her kid brother, Jamal, should have opened my eyes to the subtle difficulties of living in a ...more
Jan 30, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: reviewed, canada

What a puzzling book. I found it on a reading list recommending contemporary Canadian fiction - and while it is fairly contemporary (2005), at least compared to some of my other reads, and it is certainly Canadian, I am not sure why it received a lot of praise and recommendations.

Some of the writing was beautiful and quite poetic, but I could not stand any of the main characters, who were a group of not-quite grown up early-twenty-somethings who all left their families to live in a shared
Jul 27, 2011 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Emily Koenig
Feb 23, 2007 rated it it was ok
Highly overrated. Serious lack of character development left me cold.
May 16, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2014
WHAT WAS THAT!?!? Seriously. I hate when a book ends and I want to throw it across the room. This book claims to be about a boy named "Quy" who was lost when his family was escaping Vietnam. It is 30ish years later in Toronto and, as the back cover states, "... the tension surrounding Quy's arrival mounts, and leads to a violent, unexpected encounter that will alter forever the lives of [basically all the rest of the characters]." Quite frankly there is no tension until page 298 and this book is ...more
"Anonymity is the big lie of a city. You aren't anonymous at all. You're common, really, common like so many pebbles, so many specks of dirt, so many atoms of materiality."

"What floats in the air on a subway train like this is chance. People stand or sit with the thin magnetic film of their life wrapped around them. They think they're safe, but they know they're not. Any minute you can crash into someone else's life, and if you're lucky, it's good, it's like walking on light."

Perhaps the best
Didn’t like this book much. There wasn’t very much to the plot and I felt myself relieved when each section ended. I felt there was a lot that I could have connected with in a few of the characters but I was prevented from doing so by my hatred of them. Linda or Martha or whatever her name was was a bike messenger and for a while near the beginning I wanted to bike through the streets of Toronto with her. But by the end, I hated her as much as the other characters. I can’t remember what the guy’ ...more
Matthew Rogers
Mar 23, 2010 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jen  (Remembered Reads)
A disappointingly uneven portrait of contemporary Toronto. The story follows the interlocking lives of four twenty-something second-generation and traces their daily interactions with an undercurrent of their alienation from their parents.

It’s well enough written, but doesn’t feel real at any level. The title comes from a question that Tuyen, one of the main characters, asks of shoppers when she’s behind the counter – and that one scene illustrates both what’s right and wrong about the book. The
Apr 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
Canadian author Dionne Brand is woefully overlooked in the US. She is a celebrated poet, but has published three novels. Her last novel What We All Long For is a lament about contemporary Toronto. In Brand’s hands, the widely heralded diversity of the Canadian metropolis gets fragmented into a series of richly observed life stories. As the title indicates, a web of desires so complex, enough even to render Freud mute, binds the characters to one another. However, it is the very yoking of these ...more
Jun 23, 2009 rated it it was ok
This acclaimed novel was a severe disappointment. More because it began with the most beautiful character sketches I have read in quite a while. I was dazzled. But then it stopped. Completely. Like a different author started writing. I couldn't even finish it. So sad. Don't bother to read past the first third. Well since I didn't finish it maybe I'll try to read it backwards and see if the middle was just the deathtrap and not the whole thing.
Aug 06, 2019 rated it it was ok
(2.5 stars)
The story was not at all what I expected from reading the synopsis. I was expecting more about Quy and I expected him to arrive, you know, a little earlier in the book. And the synopsis says his arrival would affect Tuyen and her friends but I did not get any of that. He arrived in Toronto LITERALLY right at the end. The synopsis makes it seem like I would hear more about Tuyen and how her story goes but I did not get enough of her. The story did not seem to be moving forward-if that
What I liked: the gorgeous prose, the visceral sense of Toronto the city, the vivid depictions of Tuyen's art installations, the descriptions of the black dance clubs of Toronto in the 60s and 70s.

What I didn't like: the pacing, the contrived 'coincidence' of the ending when two plot lines converged.

And the book also made me wonder: most of the parents of the twenty somethings the book follows moved to Toronto to give their children a better life. And I wonder how many of them would have felt
Nov 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 23, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Alex Leslie
Dionne's Brand's mcuh celebrated novel is supposed to be good. It has all the makings of a excellent foray into literature; complex metaphors, well-written and in depth descriptions of people, places and their history, and a compelling back story running throughout. So why was I left feeling only slightly touched and mostly mediocre?

Brand broke her way into the literary world being a poet first and a novelist second. This is clear in her writing. "What We All Long For" has moments of poetic
Mar 12, 2012 rated it liked it
I can imagine a scene in Canada's House of Commons, Stephen Harper or one of his cronies holding this book up as an example of why we need more prisons: "these children of immigrants flooding into our country, what else can we do with them?" The young ones depicted in the novel may not have had the opportunities to "better" themselves from the conservative point of view, and the frequent backstories and family histories woven into the narrative point out how the new-comer parents had a lot to ...more
Aug 14, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: good-riddance
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Torontonians
Recommended to Lesliemae by: Andrew Lesk
This book made me feel a part of the entity Toronto. Torontonians do not just live in the city they live with it. Brand captures that sense of Toronto streets, bars, culture, music, the life of beauty and struggle.

Inscription: (July.08)
I've lived in Toronto since 2003. The SARS outbreak had just subsided while the blackouts were beginning. I lived in the bubble of my marriage for the next year, and then the shattered pieces of it for another year. This book, written in 2005, emerged on the
Sep 05, 2014 rated it liked it
I really enjoyed how this book captured the flavour of Toronto as experienced by twenty-somethings in the 90s. I read this book with the hopes that I might use it with my high school students in Toronto. The content would be relevant to my students' lives (experience of immigrant parents, feeling different at school, unrequited love). With multiple narrators - jumping between 1st and 3rd person - and many descriptions of installation art, the writing is sophisticated. I would recommend it to ...more
Carly Drake
Sep 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book was truly amazing. I originally rated it 4 stars but had to amend that rating after I dreamt about the book all night and was still thinking about it in the morning.

Dionne Brand has created a living, breathing world in a Toronto you can really see and feel. Her characters are vibrant, flawed, and complicated - you want to know all about them and their parents. Their stories say so much about migration (including inland migration), the second generation, settlement, and integration. I
Jan 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
The story of twenty-somethings in 2002 Toronto looking to escape their own families and cultural baggage in a city that promises an escape. Each one is drawn back into their own histories and this book has a shocker of an ending that nearly resolves the multiple plot lines. Dionne Brand brings a lyrical, poetic quality to this prose that gives each of the characters a believable eloquence. I found these characters and the story arc each one was living to be enormously likable and I'm going to ...more
Rand Harker
Aug 15, 2012 rated it liked it
Very interesting themes of conflicts between generations of new immigrants and how children and parents see their place in the new land in different ways. But though themes are well developed, there are problems with over-explaining (analyses of why characters behave as they do very Victorian in nature; these analyses worked then because at the time it was believed such questions were answerable; doesn't work so well any more because why we do what we do seems much muddier than it used to) and ...more
Mar 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
"People stand or sit with the thin magnetic film of their life wrapped around them. They think they're safe, but they know they're not. Any minute you can crash into someone else's life, and if you're lucky, it's good, it's like walking on light."

This from page 4..drew me in to the rest of the book. What a grand book! I looked up Remedios Varo and discovered that I really like her art..a lot. I listened to Ornette Coleman playing The Jungle Is A Skyscraper and liked it.

Thank you Dionne
The ending was dumb. I hated Tuyen and Quy was boring. Jamal was awful, and Carla for loving him, likewise. The only interesting characters were Angie, Oku, and Jackie. And only Angie got resolution through Carla. Over 50% of the book was unnecessary details and memories. Harsh critics my ass. Why would you write about such spoiled awful people? Never again.
Jun 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Life in young Toronto. Powerful description of a Black Jamaican family, a black family from Nova Scotia, and an immigrant family from Vietnam (boat people) that lost their son one their rushed way out of Vietnam.

Beautiful family dynamics, and friendships interractions.

Lots of suspense and poetry.

Amazingly touching
Not a huge fan of this book. Had to read it for my Can Lit course and the prof spent way too much time on it because it's one of her favourite books. I thought it was kind of weird.
Ben Truong
What We All Long For is a standalone contemporary fiction written by Madeleine Thien. This novel chronicles the lives of a group of four high school friends, who are now in their early twenties as they navigate through life in the city of Toronto.

This book serves as an entry (A book set in Toronto) in the Toronto Public Library Reading Challenge 2019. This book was one of the only books based in Toronto that jumped out to me as I read the blurbs online.

What We All Long For stars five
Jan 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
(view spoiler) ...more
I don't know exactly how I feel about this book, but I know the reaction is mostly negative. I began with hating the first fifty or so pages of "What We All Long For", as the way in which it presents Tuyen, Oku, Carla, and Jackie is quite misleading and in some ways verges on stereotypes of what 25-or-so year-olds are like. However, I gradually warmed up to it, seeing some brighter moments in it and growing accustomed to the complex and frequently problematic and annoying personalities of each ...more
Jan 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
Dionne Brand is an incredible poet, and it really shows in this novel. Every line is crafted so beautifully, giving such a powerful sense of the emotions and place that Brand evokes in each scene. I would've read this one just to appreciate the prose!

There seems to be a lot of mixed opinions on this book, especially when it comes to the characters. While I didn't particularly like any of them as people very much, I didn't find it necessary to like them in order to enjoy the story they were a
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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 ...more
“They were born in the city from people born elsewhere.” 13 likes
“And on the sidewalks, after they've emerged from the stations, after being sandpapered by the jostling and scraping that a city like this does, all the lives they've hoarded, all the ghosts they've carried, all the inversions they've made for protection, all the scars and marks and records for recognition - the whole heterogeneous baggage falls out with each step on the pavement. There's so much spillage.” 7 likes
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