Dionne Brand's third novel, What We All Long For (2005), is as much about the city in which it is set as it is about its main characters. Perhaps best known as a poet, Brand uses rich and lyrical language to describe Toronto as her characters move through the cityscape. Toronto is depicted as an "Anglicized" city, built on First Nations land and possessing a multiracial and multicultural population (See also ethnic and race relations). The novel explores this complex relationship between the city and its people, between a history of white-Anglo social dominance and modern globalization, and between the hierarchy of privilege and those it excludes.
What We All Long For portrays characters in their mid-twenties with varying degrees of autonomy. As the children of migratory parents, the characters attempt to "translate" or assimilate into white Anglo culture according to their families' expectations, but also explore ways of resisting the demands of both mainstream Canadian culture and the cultures of their parents. Through acts of self-protection, loyalty, and rebellion, the young characters try to determine for themselves the kinds of futures they want to have.
The shifting relationships within family and social spheres in What We All Long For demonstrate the difficulties associated with immigration and identity and also reflect issues of class, gender, race, and culture (See racism, Women's Movement). The novel complicates matters of first- and second-generation relations and the experiences of Canadians of colour with the diversity of the city, which presents an alternative to the dominant white Anglo culture and offers a city culture that can both accommodate and be adapted to its inhabitants' needs and desires. While What We All Long For explores the city's characteristic blending of cultures and national origins, the novel resists an interpretation of Toronto as an unproblematic multicultural "mosaic." Throughout the novel, characters struggle with diasporic concepts of home, constantly negotiate belonging (to family, community, ethnicity, and nation (See state, nationalism), and deal in various ways with discrimination, both subtle and explicit.
The novel alternates between the perspectives of five main characters. Tuyen is the defiant youngest child of Vietnamese immigrants who has moved out to become an avant-garde artist but remains financially reliant on her doting yet scolding parents. Carla is overwhelmed by her unresolved grief years after her mother committed suicide, her inability to protect her troubled brother, and her uncontrollable rage against her negligent father. Proudly independent, Jackie is determined to avoid the trap of racism, poverty, and violence that has claimed her parents and many other marginalized Black people. Aspiring poet Oku wants to escape his Jamaican (See Caribbean people) father's domineering presence but, like Tuyen, finds that his creative pursuits and consequent financial insecurity make him dependent on his family.
In contrast to the four friends' narratives, the narrative of Tuyen's brother Quy focuses largely on the past, when he was lost as a child during his family's emigration from Vietnam. Quy's position - as a beloved lost child and a necessarily selfish, hardened survivor - makes the effect of his new presence in his family's life unpredictable.
What We All Long For has been widely embraced for its representation of contemporary Toronto, and won the 2006 Toronto Book Award and the 2006 Harbourfront Festival Prize.