There were 14 members present at the book club this month. As is normal at this time of year, some regular members were away to work in the day-work release program. The book was extremely well received by the men and we had an absolutely fantastic discussion with them, one of the best this year. Everyone would recommend this book to Book Clubs for Inmates at other correctional institutions. Once again, we asked the men to come to our meeting having formulated a question beforehand and the following represents some of them.
1. Shooting of an unarmed person by the police, is this not murder?
2. Does the book’s feeling of nostalgia suit the story’s title?
3. Systemic racism was prevalent in the lives of Michael and Francis. How did Chariandy work this into his book and is it different today than what was portrayed in the 1970s?
4. Discuss the role of music in ‘Brother’. Does it offer escape or a sense of belonging?
5. Does telling this story empower anyone?
6. Was Francis gay or really close to Jelly?
7. Midway through, the mother enters the healing process when she talks to Aishe’s friends about her life, showing pictures and listening to music. How important do you think these outlets are to personal grieving?
8. Should he have won the DJ contest and were the police racist who appeared after the fight?
The narration which went combined moving back and forth in time was welcomed by members. They were a little disappointed when they learned that the book was fictional rather than a true story based on the author’s experiences.
A few of the men had either grown up in Scarborough or were aware of the housing developments that were portrayed in the book. An interesting point of view was shared by one of these men. He found less racism in the Scarborough environment with its multicultural mix than he did when he lived in a less culturally diverse community outside of Toronto. His definition was more of feeling out of place and different than it was overt racism. This led to an interesting discussion about how the police might react to the same set of circumstances today. Most felt that the police would be more cautious in their behaviour today due to training and the fact that everyone has a camera on their cell phone which makes them more accountable for any unacceptable behaviour.
While preparing for this book, we found a discussion guide which had been prepared by the Amnesty International book club which included a review by Lawrence Hill. Some of his comments were shared with the men and it was included as an attachment to the report as a resource for other groups. You can find the review here: