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“A watershed novel: From now on, Canadian writers will be pressed to portray contemporary Toronto in all its multiracial colour and polyphonic sound.”

—National Post

“This is a straight-ahead narrative, craftily conceived so that the relationships morph and the tensions build.”

—NOW magazine (Toronto)

“It’s great that Brand locates these places of grace in funky Toronto bars rather than some lake in northern Ontario or windswept prairie in Saskatchewan. For that, Canadian literature owes her a debt of gratitude.”

—Toronto Star

“It is not too much to say that Brand writes Toronto in this new novel as it’s never been written before.… Brand’s talent for putting that uniqueness into language and art comes through with profound intelligence, humour and realism.… The craft of What We All Long For solidly establishes Brand as a literary contender. She writes desires like no one else.”

—The Globe and Mail

“Brand’s characters and situations are vivid and compelling.”

—Canadian Press

“What We All Long For [is] complicated, curious, heartbreaking.”

—The Gazette (Montreal)

“The story of Quy … enthralls the reader with its strength and intelligence.”

—Winnipeg Free Press

“[Brand’s] novels seem her most powerful work, and this one is no exception.… What We All Long For is easily Brand’s most accessible novel and yet she hasn’t given up a thing.”

—Xtra! (Toronto)

“What We All Long For is a wonderfully layered and polyphonic novel.… I have always found a radiance and warmth in Brand’s writing (tough and unflinching though it inevitably is) that I find in few of her peers.”

—Vue Weekly (Edmonton)


Copyright © 2005 Dionne Brand

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review.

Published in Canada by Vintage Canada, a division of Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in hardcover in Canada by Alfred A. Knopf Canada, a division of Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto, in 2005. Distributed by

Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.

Vintage Canada and colophon are registered trademarks of

Random House of Canada Limited.

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Brand, Dionne

What we all long for / Dionne Brand.

eISBN: 978-0-307-36762-4

I. Title.

PS8553.R275W43 2006      C813’.54      C2005-901318-4


For Marlene, still.



Title Page



Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five


About the Author


THIS CITY HOVERS above the forty-third parallel; that’s illusory of course. Winters on the other hand, there’s nothing vague about them. Winters here are inevitable, sometimes unforgiving. Two years ago, they had to bring the army in to dig the city out from under the snow. The streets were glacial, the electrical wires were brittle, the telephones were useless. The whole city stood still; the trees more than usual. The cars and driveways were obliterated. Politicians were falling over each other to explain what had happened and who was to blame—who had privatized the snow plows and why the city wasn’t prepared. The truth is you can’t prepare for something like that. It’s fate. Nature will do that sort of thing—dump thousands of tons of snow on the city just to say, Don’t make too many plans or assumptions, don’t get ahead of yourself. Spring this year couldn’t come too soon—and it didn’t. It took its time—melting at its own pace, over running ice-blocked sewer drains, swelling the Humber River and the Don River stretching to the lake. The sound of the city was of trickling water.

Have you ever smelled this city at the beginning of spring? Dead winter circling still, it smells of eagerness and embarrassment and, most of all, longing. Garbage, buried under snowbanks for months, gradually reappears like old habits—plastic bags, pop cans—the alleyways are cluttered in a mess of bottles and old shoes and thrown-away beds. People look as if they’re unravelling. They’re on their last nerves. They’re suddenly eager for human touch. People will walk up to perfect strangers and tell them anything. After the grey days and the heavy skies of what’s passed, an unfamiliar face will smile and make a remark as if there had been a conversation going on all along. The fate of everyone is open again. New lives can be started, or at least spring is the occasion to make it seem possible. No matter how dreary yesterday was, all the complications and problems that bore down then, now seem carried away by the melting streets. At least the clearing skies and the new breath of air from the lake, both, seduce people into thinking that.

It’s 8 A.M. on a Wednesday of this early spring, and the subway train rumbles across the bridge over the Humber River. People are packed in tightly, and they all look dazed, as if recovering from a blow. There’s the smell of perfume and sweat, and wet hair and mint, coffee and burned toast. There is a tension, holding in all the sounds that bodies make in the morning. Mostly people are quiet, unless they’re young, like the three who just got on—no annoying boss to be endured all day. They grab hold of the upper hand-bars and as the train moves off they crash into one another, giggling. Their laughter rattles around in the car, then they grow mockingly self-conscious and quiet, noticing the uptightness on the train, but they can’t stay serious and explode again into laughter.

One of them has a camera, she’s Asian, she’s wearing an old oilskin coat, and you want to look at her, she’s beautiful in a strange way. Not the pouting corporate beauty on the ad for shampoo above her head, she has the beauty a falcon has: watchful, feathered, clawed, and probing. Another one’s a young black man; he’s carrying a drum in a duffel bag. He’s trying to find space for it on the floor, and he’s getting

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