Eilis Lacey’s older sister Rose understands the small-town limits of Enniscorthy, Ireland. The years following World War II have been hard for the Lacey children and their widowed mother. Brothers Jack, Pat and Martin have left for work in England, leaving Rose and Eilis to look after their mother.
At thirty, it may be too late for Rose, but Eilis has a chance for a better life in America. And the decision is made when Rose arranges for an Irish priest from Brooklyn to sponsor her sister. A few weeks later, a stunned and wide-eyed Eilis boards a ship for New York to begin her life.
Eilis settles into a Brooklyn walk-up with a group of women boarders, overseen by the opinionated Mrs. Kehoe and begins her job working the floor at Bartocci’s department store. The strangeness of her new life overwhelms Eilis, but she keeps busy with work and accounting classes at Brooklyn College. Slowly, her life changes and when she meets a man at an Irish church dance, Eilis begins to believe she can find happiness in New York.
When tragedy at home calls Eilis back to Ireland, she realizes that her ties to home are much stronger than she knew and she is tormented by indecision. And her life in New York becomes more remote the longer she stays in Ireland. Love, loyalty and family pull from two directions and it isn’t until the final pages of this lovely story where Eilis chooses.
Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn is a classic tale about post-war immigration to America. Readers feel the same mix of optimism and fear that runs through Eilis as she makes her way in an entirely new world. Tóibín includes many details about 1950s New York, adding unique color and depth to an experience many have shared. And the author’s strong female characters make this a story as much about gaining independence as it is about love and happiness. What I enjoyed most was the emerging strength in Eilis as she adapts to change and then confronts the most important decision of her life.
At 262 pages, Brooklyn is fairly short and I would have liked to learn more about some of Tóibín’s lesser characters, including the Lacey brothers, Father Flood and Miss Fortini. The author hints at interesting details about them and I think the story would have been even stronger if they had played greater roles. Likewise, the author only touches on the conflicts between the different immigrant nationalities and other post-war tension. Maybe he chose to only refer to these to add context and perhaps we will see these minor characters in another book.
Of course, if it’s a book that’s become a movie, I’m likely to watch the movie and make the comparison. In this case, I was delighted. While the movie, like all adaptations to film, omits layers of details too difficult to include, I thought it kept very close to the characters and story line. You can learn more about the movie starring Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen and Domhnall Gleeson here.
Follow along as I work my way through my 16 in 16 Challenge!
Book 1 – A Book You Can Finish in a Day: The Good Neighbor by A.J. Banner
Book 2 – A Book in a Genre You Typically Don’t Read: The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson
Book 3 – A Book with a Blue Cover: The Vacationers by Emma Straub
Book 4 – A Book Translated to English: I Refuse by Per Petterson
Book 5 – A Second Book in a Series: Brooklyn on Fire by Lawrence H. Levy
Book 6 – A Book To Learn Something New: The Beginner’s Photography Guide by Chris Gatcum
Book 7 – A Book That Was Banned: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Book 8 – A Book Set Somewhere You’ve Always Wanted to Visit: Calmer Girls by Jennifer Kelland Perry
Book 9 – A Book with Non-human Characters: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
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