Sunday, June 7, 2009

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

Flap copy from ARC:
"Eilis Lacey has come of age in small-town Ireland in the years following WWII. Though skilled at bookkeeping, she cannot find a job in the miserable Irish economy. When an Irish priest from Brooklyn offers to sponsor Eilis in America- to live a work in a Brooklyn nighborhood "just like Ireland"- she decides she must go, leaving her fragile mother and her charismatic sister behind.

Eilis finds work in a department store on Fulton Stret, and when she least expects it, finds love. Tony, a blond Italian from a big family, slowly wins her over with patient charm. He takes Eilis to Coney Island and Ebbets Field, and home to dinner in the two-room apartment he shares with his brothers and parents. He talks of having children who are Dodgers fans. But just as Eilis begins to fall in love with Tony, devastating news from Ireland threatens the promise of her future."

As the daughter of an Irish immigrant, I picked up this book hoping for another perspective on the immigrant experience, a hope that was more than met by this extraordinary novel. As Eilis' story unfolds, the reader is able to see her grow and change as she learns some of the lessons that Brooklyn has to teach. I was delighted that the borough itself was so obviously a character in the story, exerting its own personality and influence both on Eilis and on the reader.

I heard Colm Toibin read from the book and talk about the experience of writing it- the starting point was a story he heard in his youth, a snippet of conversation that stuck in his head until this book was written. He perfectly captures the confusion and homesickness of a young girl uprooted from all she has ever known, and lovingly documents her gradual transformation into womanhood. This quiet tale will stick with you; though the novel itself was a quick read, the story and Eilis' final choice linger long after the book is completed. Definitely a must read!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've read about this before - it sounds really good, and I love what you say about Brooklyn being a character in the story.