English 180: Blog prompt 1

Choose and discuss a passage from Dionne Brand’s What We All Long For that you think is crucial to understanding one of the characters in the novel. What does this passage reveal about this character that helps to provide a context for what he or she does or says in other parts of the book?

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The deadline for this blog prompt is Thursday, September 16.

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35 Responses to English 180: Blog prompt 1

  1. Matthew P says:

    This passage on page 115 gives the reader insight on the root of Tuyen’s artistic abilities, which is a main component of what makes her who she is in the novel and also gives hint to the relationship with her father Tuan. Tuyen is confused and unsure of where to take her life being an aspiring artist who has dropped out of school. “Tuyen learned how to draw from her father…Her father’s annoyance only spurred her to perfect the fabulous as a practice. A head growing out of a drainpipe, a river flowing through the roof of a house”(Brand 115). This is a well written as well as important passage when putting together the pieces of Tuyen as a character in the novel.

  2. Andrew L. says:

    I actually chose my quote about a week ago, but did not sit down to write about it until today. It was then that I noticed that Paul D. had already chosen to write on this excerpt, but I found that only served to further validate my choice, and decided to still use it:

    “But then there was the other side of their eccentricities: she hated knowing that they came from a real moment of devastation, not personal quirkiness- her mothers insomnia and her frantic retrievals of hidden or lost papers at night, her father hiding money in shoes and books. And the incoherent fights about who was to blame.” (pg. 64)

    This passage is actually quite upsetting its foundation, which is that their family’s relocation from Vietnam truly devastating to their family fabric. The hiding of money in shoes and books is representative not only of his want to protect and provide for his family, but also of the stark reality that money has become more precious than ever. Instead of holding a prestigious position as a doctor, the family now owns a small restaurant…certainly not the best use of a doctoral skill set. And I believe it is this feeling of insecurity and more importantly, of uncertainty that holds Tuyen back in her new home, and prevents her parents from allowing her to embrace Western culture in its entirety. This is undoubtedly a common struggle among newly immigrated families…Tuyen’s story is really no different.

  3. Paul D. says:

    “But then there was the other side of their eccentricities: she hated knowing that they came from a real moment of devastation, not personal quirkiness- her mothers insomnia and her frantic retrievals of hidden or lost papers at night, her father hiding money in shoes and books. And the incoherent fights about who was to blame.” (pg. 64)

    To me this passage represents how the Tuan and Cam’s immigration from Vietnam will always haunt them. Many years after their ordeal when they lost one of their sons, they still cannot but their experience behind them. The father hiding money in shoes and books shows that he does not feel comfortable with his surroundings. He feels like at any moment his world could come crashing down just like it had in the past. Also his hiding of money represents his over protectiveness of his family. He feels that Tuyen should stay at the family home because that is the function of a family. To protect loved ones. What Tuan cannot see is that even though Tuyen was brought up by Vietnamese parents, she was brought up in a western society and their culture is much different. Cam’s fear of losing papers also reveals how uncomfortable she always feels. It seems as though the laminated documents show her lack of peace from the immigration and her lost son. What they thought would be a clean slate actually resulted in a tumultuous life.

  4. Peter C says:

    “Carla flew at him, slapping his face and kicking him. He fell over onto the couch again, his raised arms warding off her blows. He’d completely lost the composure he’d tried to affect. He’d known all along that beneath Carla’s calm lay a rage, rage that she could not express as a child but that would breakout somehow. He was not a man that was afraid of women. He handled them emotionally, and if not emotionally, physically, without compunction”
    Carla’s character was a mystery to me up until I read this part. Although she constantly talks about her mother and her love for her, I never could quite understand the other part of her story which is her relationship with Tuyen, her present rather than past. To me this proves her heterosexuality but she cannot admit to herself and others that she’s scared. Having seen her mom and “Derek”, as she calls him, fight her entire life she does not want the same thing to happen to her and even more so her future children.
    Carla feels comforted by Tuyen when they lay together but there’s no physical attraction on her side. She does not yet believe a man can give her what she needs because of her childhood. Whether Derek was beating Angie, yelling at her or having sex with her there was always deep hatred on Derek’s side and deep love on Angie’s side. Carla cannot help but think the same will someday happen to her. I think Carla takes Angie’s role in this passage as she proves to her father that even she will be more of a parent than he will ever be. There was never a sense of blood-related love on Derek’s behalf and this is what drives Carla into deep sadness and depression as well as her resentment towards true love.
    After being so fed up with her father’s inability to have any impact in her or her brother’s life, she finally develops this rage that has been inside of her since she was a little girl. This is something that had to be for her sake in order to go with life. She can’t help but think that he is the murderer of her mother whom she loved so much. So rather than longing for a man to be at her side she has her friend Tuyen who is there to comfort her when she needs love.

  5. Nikki says:

    “Even as the story came out of her mouth, Carla knew this was how he would take it, not as a sedative against there father but as conformation of his fears. More and more she found herself unable to console him or to call on anything she actually knew for certain that would help him. ‘Maybe she was a bitch, Carla.’ He had said the most dreadful thing. She slapped his already wounded face and strode off. She could not forgive him. Yet she did in the end because he was the best thing that she had of Angie’s”.

    At the beginning of the novel, you find out that Carla has a brother, Jamal, who was recently brought to jail for carjacking. Her initial reaction is I have to fix this, which she indeed tries to do. In the second chapter Tuyen asks Carla “Why do you have to fix it?” and she replies, “Because he’s mine”.
    You can see in the quote I chose that Carla cares deeply for Jamal. And in the last line, she says he is the best thing she has of her mother. In this quote you can see that Carla feels responsible for Jamal. And, you can tell that by forgiving him and not leaving him, she is protecting Jamal by keeping him close and loving him. When Carla revisits her childhood home you learn a lot about her family’s past. She takes you through her fathers abuse and her mother’s suicide. I think that Carla feels as if Jamal is the only family she has left. Carla really loved her mother and since she is dead, Jamal is the only thing left that was Angie’s. He is someone that represents his mother and Carla does not want to let go of him because then in a way, she would be letting go of her mother.
    After reading the section about her past, I believe that because of Carla’s childhood experiences she is unable to open herself up to others. Although Tuyen, Oku and Jackie are Carla’s closest friends, I feel as if she never really lets them get to know her, the real her. I also think that because she feels solely responsible for Jamal that no matter what she would stand by and fight for him. I really just picked this quote because the last few lines really let you see Carla’s sensitive and vulnerable side. Which is something you don’t really see with her interactions with her friends because they usually don’t like to talk about family problems or situations.

  6. Scott says:

    “I often ask myself why I wore this disguise as a monk like Loc Tuc. No answer. I was a monk. I renounced the world. I didn’t know the world. It’s all self-deception, anyway. I’m not about to apologize for what I did.”

    This passage seems to represent “classic Quy” for me. A severe mistrust of everything around him combined with a certain uncomfortableness of who he is results in his trying to attribute his actions and character to the scene around him. Quy carries this attitude that there is no real Quy almost. He is just the result of a mashup from all the different situations he has been in. From time to time, we see that he seems to be a little uncomfortable with this though. There are moments of self-doubt that are invariably followed by a confident sounding voice endorsement of the actions that make him uncomfortable to the reader. With the phrase “it’s all self deception, anyway” he highlights the point that the meaning of an experience is the way one treats it for themself; how they take the information or experience and deal with it. It is a facet of one’s personality that shapes them for the future. The other characters seem to have isolated what they want or need for satisfaction, and are attempting to work towards it. Quy however, always seems to be still floating. It seems he does not want to attempt to control any situation that he is in. He does not have what he wants isolated, and seems to be just going through situations hoping to stumble upon it.

  7. Hannah B. says:

    “What a mess he’d caused – now a lot of people had to put things right, had to mourn him, to bury him, to pick out his funeral clothes, carry his coffin, weep for him. Their lives would be altered forever. His wife had to feel guilt over what she might or might not have done, there would be rumors about how she was to blame. Carla would have gone alone, taken only herself and not in so public a way either; she would have simply disappeared, a well-planned disappearance so that no one would know that she was gone in that way but perhaps only gone on a trip, moved to a new city or country. She would have left a definite route to another life being lived. She would inconvenience no one. That’s how a suicide should be done. It should be a disappearance. A happy disappearance.” (Brand, p.102)
    This quote really gives in interesting look into Carla’s character. I think her feelings on this subject have a lot to do with her past experiences. In think a lot of Carla’s insecurities have to do with the role she has taken on as the parent of her brother Jamal. More importantly it talks of her past, of the suicide of her mother. She is describing this man that commits suicide just as her mother did, in a very public way. I think in this quote when Carla is describing how she would disappear she is not only describing the way she would commit suicide but the way in which she wished her mother had. Angie threw herself off the side of a building after leaving Jamal in the arms of Carla. Carla was so young, yet she was the one to have to pick up the pieces for years after her mother’s suicide. She had to care for her brother, because her Father wouldn’t, she had to keep her mother’s memory alive, because if she didn’t then who would? Certainly not her father or Nadine, and definitely not her mother’s family. Carla talks about how
    Carla’s actions when it comes to Jamal are fueled by guilt. In the quote about Carla narrates regarding the man’s suicide that “his wife had to feel guilt over what she might or might not have done, there would be rumors about how she was to blame.” I believe Carla is watching this event – this man’s suicide and reflecting on her own experiences after Angie’s death. Specifically I think she’s refereeing to herself, how she felt guilt over her mother’s death, blaming herself as many children do. Now to make up for not being able to save her mother she has struggled her entire life trying to keep Jamal safe, save him from jail and the streets. She is trying to do for Jamal what she feels she failed in doing for her mother, Angie. So when Jamal gets into trouble it is always Carla coming to his rescue – finding ten thousand dollars to bail him out of jail.

  8. Alyson H says:

    “What Carla herself remembered from St. James Town was the odd stirring of the air on the balcony. Something bad had happened and no one would be coming back and this was all a spectacle, it was awful and it was also wonderful, an occasion. She remembered smiling as if it was a prize or an enviable even, though all through it she had walked around with the baby in her arms. No one could pry him loose from her…” (pg 103)

    “Now put the pencil down, sweetie, don’t get it in his eye. Okay, take him inside now. Careful, careful. Hold him carefully.” (pg 104)

    These two passages help show who Carla is as a character. They show why Carla is so motherly to Jamal, and why she feels the need to fix all his problems. It shows why Carla doesn’t really completely open up. She lets Tuyen, Jackie, and Oku in, but never really talking about her problems. She talks about Jamal and all his mistakes, but never revealing much more than that. They all get along because they all have family issues, but never really address all the problems with each other. Later on in the chapter she also explains that her mother’s suicide is also why she doesn’t like clutter in her apartment, and why she became a package currier. Many of the things she does is a way for her to feel close to her mom.

  9. Fiona says:

    “But I can’t complain. There’s something to anonymity, stereotype, being part of the hordes. It can be camouflage. Let others try to escape it. Let them complain. I’ll slip into it and disappear. Did I tell the Amnesty people who I was? Who I’d been? No. What for? To complicate things? Let them have their picture, I say. Yes, I’m innocent of all things. Yes, I’m guilty of all things”

    Throughout the novel, Quy’s true emotions and attitudes concerning his situation remain ambiguous to the readers. We imagine him possessing feelings of resentment, but for the most part Quy seems to have accepted the situation. Although he is aware that his circumstances are dangerous and miserable, he appears to have embraced his lifestyle, realizing that he has to do whatever it takes to survive. It almost seems that he quickly lost hope of finding his family. He doesn’t directly blame his parents for what happened to him or even question why it happened to him.

    This quote captures this foundational and almost mysterious aspect of Quy’s character. He addresses his preference towards anonymity, suggesting that he has accepted and embraced his lifestyle. He appears completely apathetic towards being found and finding his family. He’d almost rather remain anonymous than be found- again, stressing how he has come to terms with his life. Lastly, he blatantly and intentionally contradicts himself saying that he is “innocent of all things” and “guilty of all things.” The uncertainty of his character is so clear here.

    He is a very unpredictable and unreliable narrator. Many of the characters were easy to figure out and understand. As opposed to the other characters’ chapters, it’s interesting that Quy’s sections are told in first-person. One would think that this would allow him be the easiest to grasp and understand. However, he remains the one character I found confusing and unable to figure out. This quote captures many of these elements of his character.

  10. Timmy T says:

    Talking to herself, Tuyen rationalizes the recovery of her long-lost brother Quy…

    “Look, she told herself, on the other hand it could be good. No skeletons, no ghost. The Universe restored. She knew that Tuan and Cam would’ve given up anything they had for this moment. Though deep in her heart she blamed them for not doing just that, and for surviving and dragging her into their survival. But now it was going to be fine. She could unblame them. Binh had redeemed them (pg. 303)”

    I believe this quote is crucial to understanding the character Tuyen. She is particularly unhappy and frustrated with her Vietnamese parents. She blames them for losing her older brother Quy long ago in Vietnam while leaving the country. This loss has clearly affected Tuyen sentimentally, and the quote’s tone of relief is evidence to this claim. This quote reveals some reasoning for why Tuyen rejects her parents time and time again in the novel. She blames them for not sacrificing more than what they had in order to recover Quy. She believes they gave up on themselves and Quy, and she doesn’t want to be “dragged into their survival” (which explains why she chooses to live in an apartment in the city and not in a peaceful neighborhood with her wealthy family). I believe this is also a main reason why Tuyen and Carla are such great friends. They both have experienced a loss of a family member, (Tuyen her brother and Carla her mother). The recovery of Quy instills hope in Tuyen’s mind. She states, “But now it was going to be fine. She could unblame them.” This statement is very important in understanding Tuyen’s motives and decisions in the novel. It is textual proof that the loss of Quy was the main factor keeping her family dysfunctional and separated. She purposely avoided her parent’s mourning over Quy, running away from her true identity in order to achieve a peaceful state of mind. She refused to conform to her families’ clichéd and sorrowful new way of life in Canada by attempting a unique and radical lifestyle change; contrasting her families’ traditional Vietnamese culture.

  11. Laurel Ganem says:

    “Carla had abandoned Tuyen to her explorations of sex, telling her, “I’m not interested. I’m just not. It’s not my thing, all right,” when Tuyen tried to entice her to go to the clubs on Church. Innocently, Tuyen would say to her, “Fine, I’m talking about going dancing. Straight people dance, right? It’s just dancing.” Tuyen also left books like Rubyfruit Jungle carelessly around Carla’s apartment, hoping they would spark some latent interest in Carla, but so far her entreaties had been rebuffed and she’d had to settle for near-unconscious probings and feels when Carla could claim drunkenness or drug-induced forgetfulness.” (p51)

    In his creation of Tuyen, Brand has employed a strong component of hypocrisy. I chose this passage because I believe it emphasizes the great struggle that is Tuyen’s character; there is the side that would take advantage of and essentially rape Carla, but at the same time there is the confused and emotional person that we are set up to sympathize with. This empathy towards rape illustrates the innate hypocrisy that Tuyen brings into the novel. She is manipulative, i.e. placing Rubyfruit Jungle in Carla’s environment hoping to subconsciously seduce her, but at the same time the empathy one has towards Tuyen’s desire for closeness and connection. As the novel moves forward, this hypocrisy continues, but it is what helps her character remain dynamic. With out it, with out her sexually forceful actions towards Carla and her hopelessly relatable tribulations, there would be no sense of who she is, no depth. Of course just one passage of a novel cannot do justice to any character, but this quote to me truly summarized a very crucial embodiment of Tuyen’s conflicting identity.

  12. Nicolaus Fox says:

    “She smoothed the baby’s cheeks, and he chuckled too. Then Angie went back onto the balcony and stood on the chair, and as if suddenly remembering herself, the baby in her hand, she called to Carla. […] ‘Carla, stop that noise now. Come here, luvvy, and take the baby. […] Hold tight, dear, and go inside and put him down on the sofa. Stay there till Mummy comes, Mummy has to do something. There’s Mummy’s girl. There’s my baby.’ Angie waited until Carla had gone into the apartment, then she stepped off the balcony” (Brand 247).

    One of the major issues faced by all of the adolescent characters in the novel (although to a lesser extent with Jackie), is the strong disconnect between themselves and their parents/families. This trapped and smothered feeling that arises when living with one’s parents was easy for me to relate to, but what really surprised me was the raw hatred and deep resentment expressed by the characters towards their families. This is visible in many places throughout the story, but it was not until the latter half of the novel when Brand was able to relate the fierce sadness of the tragedies experienced by the characters that I was able to comprehend Carla claiming she was detested by the sight of Derek, or that “Sundays were the only days that […Oku] could say he loved his father” (Brand 85). The way that the quote on page 247 is so realistically and specifically presented, and the way that it is preceded by the details of Angie and Derek’s highly dysfunctional relationship made me experience the sadness and emotional strain of the situation more genuinely than I have ever been accostomed to with other works of literature. This strategy allowed for a deeper connection with the character’s situation, and helped make it clear how someone could have such strong and passionate feelings of disgust and discontentment towards their own kin.

  13. Amelia says:

    “Yes, that was the beauty of this city, it’s polyphonic, murmuring. This is what filled Tuyen with hope, this is what she thought her art was about—the representation of that gathering of voices and longings that summed them selves up into a kind of language, yet indescribable. Her art—she had pursued it to stave off her family—to turn what was misfortune into something else. She had devoted all the time to it, and here they were—her family—returning again and again.” (Brand, 149)

    I chose this quote because, for me, it seemed to sum up Tuyen as a character, as well as address some of the reasons why at times I found her to be a very frustrating character. First and foremost, the first time I came across this passage, I was instantly struck by Tuyen’s hopeful outlook on the “polyphonic” city. True, as an avante garde artist and “rebel”, Tuyen appreciated diversity and straying from the norm. But at the same time she worked so hard to leave behind her unique heritage and wanted little to nothing to do with it. It is things like the diversity of ethnicity that make the city so beautiful and polyphonic. She strived so hard to seek out her individualism but at that same made great strides to crush that aspect of it. She is a character whose actions always seemed full of tension to me, and of contradiction. The passage helps outline that a bit wherein it addresses her art which she used to “stave” off her family, but in contrast it almost drew them in. In addition, the passage I think gets at her deep connection with art. It’s through art that she is able to represent the “gathering of voices and longings”—voices of others as well of her own. It is through her art that Tuyen can materialize and process what is otherwise “indescribable.”

  14. Kathryn says:

    “She had awakened then with clarity and thought, If you expect that I could help you. She reached for her notebook and wrote it down. She had been dreaming it, over and over again, this line of words said to someone in her dream. ‘If you expect…’ echoing under the rest of the line, ‘that I could know you, that I could see the thing riding you, if you expect that I should…’ She wished her dreams were more complicated. She always wrote them down thinking they might be, then read them in the mornings knowing they were not parables but just extensions of her day life” (40).

    I found this passage interesting because it shows the frustrations Carla has bottled up inside her. She feels as though her brother is too dependent on her and throughout the novel we watch her struggle with finding a balance between her loyalty and his childlike dependency. At the same time she sacrifices her own wellbeing, especially financially, in order to help him. Her dreams reflect the resentment she has for her brother and her parents. This passage shows the reader, early on in the novel, Carla’s suppressed emotions that show up later and serve as a means to justify Carla’s actions.

  15. Camille says:

    A passage on Tuyen:
    “She had left the embrace of her family- truthfully, not embrace, her family did not embrace. They fed you, they clothed you, they fattened you, but they did not embrace. Yet, they held you. With duty, with obligation, with honour, with an unspoken but viselike grip of emotional debt. Tuyen wanted no duty. [. . . ] Yet she wanted an embrace so tight, and with such a gathering of scents and touches. She wanted sensuality, not duty.” (61)

    I chose this passage as a key description because I think that it helps to decifer more clearly the complex relationship that Tuyen has with her family. It is evident in the book that in many ways she is trying to push away the parts of her family that she does not want. “The duty” as the narrator describes it. She doesn’t want to help out with the family business, to have to attend weekly meals at the house, or to help find Quy. In order to fight this we see her moving out of her parent’s house, living in a ghetto section of the city, and choosing to be an artist rather than an architect.
    However, as much as she pushes her family away, it is clear that she also wants more from them at the same time. For example, I think that Tuyen is jealous of the strong and loving relationship that Carla has with Jamal, and would like to have a stronger bond with Binh. I think that she is jealous of this relationship because it goes beyond family obligation. Tuyen also wishes for a more open relationship with her father. She cannot even talk openly to him and confess an apology, and this bothers her (119). Overall, I think that Tuyen is just looking for no-strings-attached love from her family.

  16. Ian Macdonald says:

    pg 288
    “I came to believe that he was Quy himself; otherwise, why would he keep up so many letters with this one mother when all the rest he robbed them and moved on? But then again the subject of all this could just as well have been me, for one of the names I go by is Quy and I was lost one night in a bay, or so I’ve told myself.”

    This passage is a very good example of the character that Quy is. Most likely it is true that he is the same Quy that the mother is looking for, but regardless of this fact it will not be the same son who the mother and father lost all that time ago. While the separation scarred every member of the family, it is not true that the return of Quy would make the wounds heal. This is also expressed in the sentiments of Tuyen, she seems to be the only member of the family to recognize this, while her other brother Binh looks only at the shallow fact that his parents were scarred by losing Quy and he thinks that returning him will solve this problem. Quy, hoever, would probably not fit in very well wit the family. During his rough life on his own, he lost all sense of innocence and morality. His parents, who have strict cultural standards, would probably expect Quy to be the same innocent little toddler that they had lost while fleeing Vietnam.

  17. Lauren says:

    “What he felt now was no teenaged crush but a big man’s love and lust, a powerful pull that told him he would not enjoy his life fully if she were not close to him, if he could not talk to her, if he could not always be in the same orbit of her face. So he had resolved that if he wanted her, he would have to know what she knew, walk where she walked, and figure out the things that had given shape to her” (258).

    We learn early on that Oku’s feelings for Jackie resemble an undying love. Even though Jackie does not openly reciprocate these feelings, it is apparent that deep down, Jackie also loves Oku. The fact that Oku is introverted and only expresses his feelings through his music makes their relationship even more difficult. Oku’s love for Jackie is incredibly intense and absolute, which explains why he is always searching for ways to be near Jackie and would do nearly anything for her. He became close with Jackie’s friends, Tuyen and Carla, because he wanted to learn everything about her. He tries to win Jackie over by doing everything in his power to please her, yet can not muster the courage to tell her how he truly feels. Although Oku constantly longs for Jackie’s presence in his life, his internal struggles ultimately inhibit his ability to be with her.

  18. Megan N. says:

    “She has left the embrace of her family – truthfully, not embrace, her family did not embrace. They fed you, they clothed you, they fattened you, but they did not embrace. Yet they held you. With duty, with obligation, with honour, with an unspoken but viselike grip of emotional debt. Tuyen wanted no duty. And perhaps that is what she had arrived at. Yet she wanted an embrace so tight, and with such a gathering of scents and touches. She wanted sexuality, not duty. She wanted to be downtown in the heat of it. Everyone walking in the city was senseless. She loved that. Everyone escaping the un-touch of familiars and the scents of fatalism gathered in close houses. Familiarity was not what she wanted or what would make her feel as if she were in the world. It was the opposite” (61-61).
    This passage gives us some insight into who Tuyen is. It is obvious that she is rebelling against her family. She doesn’t believe in what her parents stand for and follows a different path than the rest of her Vietnamese family. She rejects their new success as restaurant owners. Instead of living with her family in a lavish house in the suburbs she lives at a dirty and rundown apartment in the city. Tuyen’s older sisters still live with their parents and their parents wish that Tuyen would live with them too but she is too much of a free-bird. She would rather be on her own in the city where she can do whatever she wants than stuck in her old Vietnamese lifestyle. She didn’t want to have “familiarity” she was striving for a change and that is what she got. Throughout the novel Tuyen’s lifestyle, apartment, friends and choices give us huge insight into who she is: her new identity. She is a girl trying to live without her parents, but we see how dependent she actually is on them in the end.

  19. Sarah says:

    “Neither he nor Tuyen, nor Ali nor Lam, could say that their parents had ever fully declared them second-rate to their lost child. Cam and Tuan were parents in the way they knew – dutiful, authoritarian, good providers. And certainly Ali and Lam, who were the only other witnesses to that loss, did not think in those terms ever. They were born in the old country and understood their positions before Quy’s loss, understood as a matter of culture that; and surely if they had harnessed any hopes of changing that, of living their fantasies of the North American teenage rebellion, with Rolling Stones concerts and independence and free sex, Quy’s loss squelched those hopes.” (125)

    For me, this passage really stuck out and helped me understand their odd family dynamic. Tuyen and Binh can’t help but feel jealous of Quy because he is not physically there and in the mind of their parents he can do no wrong. He’s like a phantom child and is as perfect as the day they lost him on the boat. Ali and Lam can understand the loss a little better because they were there and the witnessed life before the move to North America. This causes them to know better than to move out of the family home. It’s their tradition to live with family until they have their own family and this is complicated by the fact that they have lost a child. Tuyen feels sympathy for her parents. She knows how much they suffer, she knows that neither of them can sleep at night, that her father compulsively draws and that her mother has written tons of letters seeking out Quy’s whereabouts. But Tuyen was born in North America, she resisted learning her native language as much as possible and used her parents culture gaps against them. As a lot of other young adults her age she wants to be independent, but even though she’s physically away from her family, she is always trying to further understand their situation through her art. She resists letting her family into her life but she can’t help but be surrounded by it everywhere she goes.

  20. Molly says:

    Tuyen seemed to me at times an improbably adapted character. Her defiant artistic identity, her sexual adventurousness, and her biting sarcasm combined to make me feel like too much had been placed on this character with such a troubled background. Clearly she was an exceptional individual, but I found myself wondering how realistic her portrayal was given the limitations of her family life and history. Her parents’ conservatism, the tragedy of her lost brother, the fear that permeated the household seemed to me steeper obstacles than someone at her age would have surmounted as keenly as she apparently had. For about the first hundred pages, I was pretty skeptical of Tuyen’s character. But then one passage helped me understand her better. On page 125 Brand writes, “About her family [Tuyen] had taken a superior view. She considered them somewhat childlike since her power over them in the form of language had given her the privilege of viewing them in this way. And her distance from them, as the distance of all translators from their subjects, allowed her to see that so much of the raison d’etre of their lives was taken up negotiating their way around the small objects of foreignness placed in their way.”
    Though her parents were her authorities in the family domain, Tuyen’s grasp of English and Canadian culture made her the expert when it came to the wider lens of the city and its systems. Whether or not she wanted this role was not important—it was her role from an early age. So knowing this, it made more sense that Tuyen might adopt a defiant and rebellious attitude in her teenage years. She was practically an adult by ten, so her teenage behaviors were bound to be sophisticated beyond those of her peers. I still wonder if Brand didn’t push it a bit far though. For Tuyen’s rebellion to manifest on so many levels—artistically, verbally, sexually, from the food she ate, to the chaos and grime of her apartment—this seemed like a stretch to me still. I could imagine her rejecting many of her parents’ ways but she almost seemed a caricature of a first-generation Canadian immigrant, pushing every boundary and separating herself from her Vietnamese identity in every way.
    I understood her better through the rest of the book, but remained unconvinced of whether a person like this could actually exist in the real world. I guess that’s the beauty of fiction though–exaggeration is allowed!

  21. Alex M. says:

    “She kept from loving because she loved Angie. She collected nothing like furniture or books because she loved Angie and things would clutter the space between her present self and the self that Angie loved. Carla needed a clear empty path to Angie as a living being. She appeared calm on the outside. She had a cool surface. But the battle to sort out what she could and couldn’t love was furious in her. The loop of experiences with Angie needed more and more space in her brain and the invention that maintaining an image of her mother required took all her will and focus. The things that she could touch that reminded her of Angie were few” (111).

    In this passage Carla is at 782 Wellesley Street, which is where she lived when she was a child with her mother and brother. She is reminiscing about her childhood and trying to decipher between real and imagined memories from when her mother, Angie, was alive. The reason I choose this passage is because up until this point I did not have a clear understanding of her character. The emotion and complexities of the other characters, such as Oku or Tuyen, are much more obvious. At the beginning of the book, readers get a feel for Carla’s habits at home. She has zero clutter, to the point where she lacks even basic furniture. We know that she cleans quite regularly and saves hardly anything. Carla treats her apartment and relationships as though they are one with her mind. She attempts to keep everything out so she can focus solely on Angie. I believe that this passage also helps bring light to her relationship with Tuyen. Although it is clear that they have a connection, Carla’s feelings on the situation are nonexistent. Through this quote we see that there is a struggle taking place within her. Not only do readers not know her feelings, she is unclear about them as well. Carla does not seem to want to focus on her feelings for Tuyen in fear that it will take up the space she saves for her mother. Lastly, this passage brought light to why she continues to bail her brother out of jail. Jamal is her truest connection to Angie and that is why she will always forgive and help him. I enjoyed this chapter and more specifically this clip of it because it revealed a lot about Carla’s actions and personality.

  22. Shane W. says:

    “There are times when I’ve said to myself, Who the hell are you? That’s a dangerous question. And this is a dangerous city. You could be anyone here. That is what first took me when I walked among people on the streets. Then one morning I sat on the subway train and I heard laughter and it reminded me of when I was little, and right away I knew it would be easy to disappear here. Who would know?” Page 309

    This passage, along with the words that follow it, reveal Quy and his overall opinions of life. More specifically in this passage and chapter he opens up on what Toronto is like from his point of view. Therefore, we can see what Toronto is like and how it affects those that inhabit it. Quy talks about how everyone around him could have some secret past, just as he does, in which they experienced great tragedy or misfortune. This past, however, does not affect their everyday life, as they just wish to live day by day. Just like the taxi driver and man from Angola, Quy accepts what has happened to him in the past, and as long as he is still alive he can rationalize his past. Juliana said it best above “[Quy] represents a maturity that the other primary characters lack.” While the other characters dwell over their shortcomings and issues Quy moves on with life, fighting to better his situation at any cost, and it is unfortunate that we do not get to see him actually meet his family. Overall, I believe that Quy is a very admirable character, although his past is a little shady. He fought adversity his entire life, yet, falls prey to the streets of Toronto just as he lets his guard down. His idea to disappear comes from the fact that he sees his past and current situation as a commonplace in his new setting; he is no longer a unique being and could simply just mesh into the surrounding city becoming just another person like the Taxi driver, Angolan man, or the tortured woman.

  23. Jake A says:

    “Heaven has eyes. Heaven punishes” (79).
    Quy essentially killed a boy in Pulau Bidong, and felt no remorse for it. I believe this is due to the fact that he adopts no identity at all. He has no idea what his family is like, or if he even has one. Consequentially, he feels like he belongs to no greater good. Moreover, he has no self. He is just there. This allows him to do whatever he wants, for he has no morals, and he answers to no one. Quy believes that there are greater powers at work that control the world, and that they intervene when necessary. This is why he said, “Heaven has eyes. Heaven punishes”, after finding the dead boy in Pulau Bidong (79). This mindset propels his ability to do whatever he wants. This explains why he left the Monk who freed him for dead. Further, his disregard for himself or anyone else is shown near the end of the book when he finally meets his brother. He doesn’t care about the reuniting with his “family”. For, he doesn’t even truly believe that he is Quy. “He turns out to be my brother. Isn’t my name Quy? Wasn’t I lost so he could come to me in his expensive shoes, in his silk shirt, his mouth slow and vulgar on his mother tongue, with his silver Beamer?” (310).This shows that the one thing Quy does care about is money. He sees the riches that this so called “brother” has, and says, “Fine, let it play” (310). Quy only plays along for his own fulfillment, specifically monetary gain.

  24. Nigel says:

    Do you realize where you are again? And I can’t get you out this time. Carjacking, Jamal. What’s going to happen now? You tell me.” She knew she was pronouncing every word denying his newfound accent. She wanted to bring him back from the dreamworld he seemed to be in. “They won’t let me bail you. And he’s not answering his phone. So now what” (31)?
    This passage of Carla’s frustrated questioning of Jamal demonstrates her feelings of resentment but also sadness that her brother has not taken care of himself and distances himself from her. Her brother is going the way that their mother would not have wanted. Her dead mother Angie gives her reason and faith to deal with the crisis of her brother. This passage shows us Carla’s determination to try and bring her brother back from what he’s become and take responsibility for his actions. Carla wants to be out on her own and to have some sort of success but Jamal’s criminal digressions result in having her to take time and money away from her life to help salvage his. . Her refusal to give in to Jamal’s street talk reflects the hope and courage her mother stood for. Angie her mother is what we find out later that gives her strength to do things. Her love for Jamal and her mother gives her reason to want to pull him out his troubles despite wanting to go on with her life. Instead of following the path of her father to ignore his family she tries to be more like Angie, her deceased mother. Carla’s decision to go to her old apartment for answers reflects her desire to bring back the happiness that her mother gave her at an early age. Her trip to Wellesley Street is about giving her the strength to deal with Jamal’s crisis by reacquainting herself with a happier time.

  25. Veronica B says:

    “Tuyen’s mother had a mad fear of being caught without proof, without papers of some kind attesting to identity or place. Cam had laminated everything in sight when she discovered a shop, Vickram’s, that did laminating. If she could wrap everything in plastic of laminate it, Tuyen felt, she would. Which is why the chairs and couches were not only Scotchgarded but covered in protective plastic that made sitting the must uncomfortable act…She hated knowing that [the eccentricity] came from a real moment of devastation, not personal quirkiness..” (63)

    “You care about the wrong things. You always did…” (Tuyen, to Binh. 156)

    I think the first passage is a perfect and almost comical example of Tuyen’s relationship to her family. It doesn’t particularly shed light on Tuyen herself, but in the context of Tuyen’s apartment, lifestyle choices, and other habits that are apparent throughout the entire novel that give the reader details of her values and opinions, this passage is an interesting contrast. One of the things I found most interesting in the book was the effort the primary characters to distance themselves from their parents, pasts, and family heritage/history, especially obvious on the part of Tuyen. Her Vietnamese family is a family like the other immigrants in Richmond Hill, a development on the outskirts of Toronto, “immigrants running away from themselves– or at least running away form the self they think is helpless, weak, unsuitable, and always in some kind of trouble.” (55) Although completely immersed in the family restaurant of Vietnamese food with Vietnamese clients and the native language, Tuyen’s parents choose to follow a dream that could be considered American. The cookie cutter home with the plastic covered chairs and carpet becomes a way for the family to put value in something unworthy of such attention. The family worked very hard to procure the house, the furniture, the birth certificates, and this identity in Toronto. The way they value it, though, is misconstrued. Although they are all a part of the new life, they do not deserve equal importance and are an example of how the family is reacting to a privilege they had not previously experienced or had forgotten. Tuyen rebels against everything her family stands for, Vietnamese or American, and follows the opposite route- she lives in squalor and criticizes her brother for the things he cares about. In the act of distancing herself from her family and creating a new identity, however, she becomes obsessed with the idea of cutting herself off and in turn creates an identity that is dependent on her family, almost as a guide for what she is trying not to be and as something to rebel against.

  26. Juliana Katinas says:

    “We may pretend to have control of things, but we don’t. It’s up to the heavens, as laid out for us by destiny. Why question the stars? Wars are inevitable and we have to pay the price, human nature can’t be changed, the laws of nature prevail no matter how we fight against them, the strong survive, the weak perish. Blah blah blah blah! Crap, lo dit! Yes, I learned the strong survive, all right, the weak perish. But take it from me, the strong are just strong, not best. The most ruthless, the greediest, but not the best. I know what got killed in me. I know where he is, the weak little shit who kept waiting for goodness, the geum, who wanted to jump up and trust anybody; who was ready any time to forgive.” Quy (page 200)

    This is a very revealing passage that reversed many of my preconceptions about Quy. I initially thought that Quy might be a dangerous and furious man, set out to get back at his family who left him behind and jealous of his younger brother who got the life he was meant to have. Here, we see that Quy’s attitude, conveyed by his honest first-person narrative, is wise, unsentimental and largely indifferent. He represents a maturity that the other primary characters lack. Quy’s sister, Tuyen, represents the typical “starving artist” who rejects her family’s traditional morals and lives with a pathetic sense of self-pity as well as ungrateful attitude towards her parents. Quy has suffered greatly and tragically, yet he does not pity himself. While his parents mourn the loss of their son and ceaselessly torture themselves with the details of that night, Quy has moved on. He is not remorseful, but rather says: what happened, happened. For Quy, his life became purely about survival. He is clearly sick of the explanations and platitudes concerning what happened to him: “It’s up to the heavens… the strong survive, the weak perish.” Quy imagines this as the mentality of his parents, who cope by believing that with faith in the heavens and moral strength, their son would survive. Quy explains that his survival was not noble. He learned to steal, to be ruthless and to be greedy. Quy had to leave behind his youth, innocence and morality to survive, thus, it is the strongest who survive, but, “The strong are just strong, not best.” Without remorse, Quy tells his story and continues to be one of the most complex and interesting characters in the novel.

  27. Aaron says:

    “Why couldn’t they have planted a good tree anywhere here, why couldn’t they have laid out beds of plants…why had it been so hard for the city to come up with a bit of beauty? The narrow winding walkway, virtually empty in the daytime, scarred looking, teemed with a ghostly, sometimes scary life at night. With one thought they could have made it beautiful, but perhaps they didn’t think that poor people deserved beauty” (Pg. 260) and

    “Jackie hadn’t left Alexandra Park. She owed a loyalty to her mother and father. That faithfulness didn’t mean that she wanted to have it burn her as it had them. Hence the white boy. Oku knew this logic. He knew that to Jackie he probably looked like so many burned-out guys in Vanauley Way. Young but burned out, so much wreckage” (P. 265).

    I chose these two passages, because I was interested in how they link not just the character of Jackie, but also Oku. Throughout most of What We All Long For, Oku seems to be defined by his incessant longing for Jackie, despite her casual indifference towards him. However, as the second passage indicates, Jackie is in turn partly defined by her need (whether she’s aware of it or not) to distance herself from the gloomy and depressed “burnt-out” atmosphere of the neighborhood her parents live in. Subsequently she is uninterested in Oku, associating him with everything she wants to move way from, and so she prefers a white man over him.

  28. Megan D. says:

    Page 181, Jackie and her father are talking and it says, “He took Jackie up in her lessons. ‘You gonna have a high school diploma, Jackie baby. Do better than me. Do better than your mother.’”
    This line is a crucial aspect to the family dynamic of three of the characters, Tuyen, Jackie, and Oku. Their families are all immigrants who do not have the lives they used to lead due to lack of education or acknowledgment of their education. Tuyen’s parents have degrees and yet they are not recognized by society and so they end up owning and running a restaurant. They do not support Tuyen moving out and being an artist. They encourage her to come home because they want her to have a better life and they believe she will find that through her family and the education instead of her art. Oku is always pressured by his father to get good grades and do well at the university to make more of himself. Jackie’s father is also pressuring her to get more of an education than he or her mother was able to achieve. There is a common thread that the immigrant parents want more for their children in this novel and this line on page 181 sums this up well.

  29. Azure says:

    “The sun coming west was dead angled at her head as she rode east, chipping between cars, crazily challenging red lights… As fast as she was riding, she could still make out the particularity of each object or person she saw, so acute this searing light around her, tingling her skin. Could anyone see her? drenched in lightning?” (28).

    I think this passage best describes how dangerous Carla can really be, and what she is really capable of. Associating her with lightning was very accurate; lightning is a very sporadic part of nature, and it’s something that cannot be stopped once set in motion, yet it is not always present. This is Carla to the T. For the majority of the novel, she is more of the reserved character, we know that something is bothering her due to Jamal, but she doesn’t let it show on the exterior. However, as time progresses, her burden becomes too much to bear and she finally explodes on her dad, destroying his car in the process. The demolition and anger Carla is capable of releasing on others is mind boggling, considering how collected she was at the beginning of the novel. She is lightning; a natural force that should not be reckoned with, unless of course you want to be to fried to a crisp.

  30. Wesley says:

    “[Binh and Tuyen] were required to disentangle puzzlement; any idiom or gesture or word, they were counted on to translate. Cam and Tuan expected much from them. As if assuming a new blood had entered their veins; as if their umbilical cords were also attached to this mothering city, and this made Binh and Tuyen not Vietnamese but that desired ineffable nationality: Western. For Tuan and Cam, the children were their interpreters, their annotators, and paraphrasts, across the confusion of their new life.” (67)

    This paragraph helps the reader understand Tuyen’s character by highlighting a crucial aspect of her personality and family history. She grew up in a world where on of her main functions was as a translator for her parents. Thus she has become a translator of sorts: an artist. In this way we can better understand her installations as translations of the facts and experiences of her life and her world into art. For instance, Tuyen makes one piece about her experience as an immigrant where she wraps herself in bubble wrap. Her project towards the end of the book can also be clearly understood in terms of a translation of her world into art, and draws an obvious analogy between Tuyen and Brand’s book in general. Therefore we can perhaps use this passage to understand Brand’s view of herself as a translator. In the same way that Tuyen (and maybe Brand as well) had to translate the world around her for her parents, she now translates the world around her for the public.

  31. Jason H. says:

    “Why couldn’t he see just one step ahead of himself, she wondered…Everything was immediate for Jamal, everything in the moment.” (pg. 32)

    Even though this quote is about Jamal, we can use it to learn more about Carla. It appears to me that Carla projects her problems onto Jamal. There is no doubt that Carla is successfully supporting herself while Jamal is not, but Carla still doesn’t have her life in order. Carla doesn’t show up to work when she just doesn’t feel like it, she has unresolved feelings about her sexuality, and she gets in fights with her family when she is trying to get support. I am not trying to look down on Carla’s character, but based on the way she makes decisions and doesn’t really deal with issues in constructive ways, she is guilty of “living in the moment” too much herself.

  32. Evan says:

    Page 57
    Tuyens father: “Why do I spend money on a big time education for you to live without your family? How you think a family works? Same house, same money, same life.”
    As shown with that excerpt along with the previous paragraph on page 57 you can really see Tuyens true self. She lives alone in an apartment she changed into a studio and always seems to wander home when she is in need of some cash from her parents. She has gotten used to having the money given to her that it it seems like it is too late to stop now. With Quys death the family was gone alot and possible they could be feeling guilty for not being around for Tuyen more. I thought this was an interesting passage that shows how in reality, when times are tough, Tuyen is always seeking financial gain from her family.

  33. Latimer says:

    “You want to know how I felt? Did I grow, did I believe, was I hopeful, was this a journey to start a new life? How could I have betrayed the new boss, how could I steal from him, am I redeemable? Did I have a moment of revelation? Can I turn my life around. You’re better at that.
    For some of us, the world is never forgiving. And anyway, we don’t believe in such things, these ideas of forgiveness, redemption – it’s useless. That high-tech monkey is probably dead by now and has figured out another incarnation” (285).

    Quy here questions if the reader wonders about his moral character. Essentially, how could he do what the average person would see as highly nefarious and unpardonable? In effect, Quy is retrospectively questioning himself from a “mainstream” perspective.

    What one can see is that Quy is living a life immediately in the “now.” He has no real past that he remembers, as least no real identifiable origins at this point. He has no plans for a future. He has had few experiences to develop any moral sense of right and wrong. Because of this, anything Quy does just is. He has a mind only for money, because of the teachings of the swindling monk. He seems to have no true human attachments.

    This perspective helps to understand how Quy can leave the monk, who freed him from an unpleasant life on Pulau Bigdong, for dead, how he can hop on a boat, with a laptop to which people send large amounts of money searching for lost relatives, and travel to North America, how he can escape a Canadian detention center with two girls who mean only money to him, and how he can have such a neutral reaction to finding his family. When he is waiting to meet his parents, he seems only to accept this as another step in his life with very little emotion.

  34. Cassie says:

    “He though that Rouse’s hoarse velvet horn best described all the levels of his love for her, the slow and quiet way he wanted to talk to her, the intimacy he wanted to evoke. And he played her “Venus” more times than he could recall because he felt that tender, that undone with her, that out in space, that uncertain of boundaries, and that much in peril if she didn’t love him back.” (184)

    Oku’s love for Jackie is intense, but nearly entirely in his head. He has trouble expressing himself to her – despite planning long conversations with her, he can’t express his inner feelings. Oku is a very mental character who is perpetually over-thinking every second of his interactions with Jackie. He bemoans his inability to be the man he knows he can be with her. He comes off as a bumbling belligerent idiot in her presence, easily tongue-tied. That fact that he leaves her long voice mails of music is indicative of this mental frustration. It’s a way of letting her know how he feels without pressure of screwing up.

  35. Emily says:

    “’ You’ve done your best!’ She was enraged; she felt as if she had completely lost control of her body. Or rather, she thought later, gained control of her body. ‘Sacrificed! Sacrificed what? You vain, awful, disgusting man! You sacrificed my mother!’ Carla was screaming, words tumbling out of her mouth. The same words she had told herself to hold back on” (253).

    This quote best describes Carla’s character and the way she acts and reacts to her friends and family. Carla is perpetually trying to save her brother Jamal, but does so, it seems, not out of a reality that he deserves to be a free man, but because she has these intense emotions of love (for Jamal and her friends) and hatred for other characters. Because of this, Carla seems to have rather poor judgment. She acts almost bipolar. This is understandable since her mother killed herself almost in front of her, but in spite of that, almost because of that, she has this primal, engrained love for her mother and Jamal, and this savage hatred for her father. If anything, I would think Carla would be furious at her mother for leaving her and Jamal. Her father isn’t a good man, but Carla is feelings are misplaced. While she bottles up emotions, acts distant and flaky with Tuyen, Oku and Jackie, her brother lashes out (and the second Carla finally lashes out on her father, thus getting Jamal bail, he steals Binh’s car and kills Quy). Carla blind love for him and her mother prevents her from opening up, scares her away from any material comforts, indirectly affects Tuyen’s family and makes her suffer needlessly and ride about in circles.

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