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Brooklynby Colm Toibin
"So many dramas turn on a word misunderstood, taken out of context, or meant for other ears — spoken in anger or illness or inebriation; faultily reported, maliciously omitted, or lost in translation — that a stoic silence might reasonably seem one's best, or only, defense. But silence can be just as treacherous, Colm Toibin suggests in Brooklyn, a novel peppered with conversations like this:
"It's so good to see you," she said quietly to Patty.
Benjamin Moser, Harper's Magazine (read the entire Harper's review)
Synopses & Reviews
Hauntingly beautiful and heartbreaking, Colm Tóibín's sixth novel, Brooklyn, is set in Brooklyn and Ireland in the early 1950s, when one young woman crosses the ocean to make a new life for herself.
Eilis Lacey has come of age in small-town Ireland in the years following World War Two. 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 and work in a Brooklyn neighborhood 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 Street, 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.
By far Tóibín's most instantly engaging and emotionally resonant novel, Brooklyn will make readers fall in love with his gorgeous writing and spellbinding characters.
"Colm Tóibín's engaging new novel, Brooklyn, will not bring to mind the fashionable borough of recent years nor Bed-Stuy beleaguered with the troubles of a Saturday night. Tóibín has revived the Brooklyn of an Irish-Catholic parish in the '50s, a setting appropriate to the narrow life of Eilis Lacey. Before Eilis ships out for a decent job in America, her village life is sketched in detail. The shops, pub, the hoity-toity and plainspoken people of Enniscorthy have such appeal on the page, it does seem a shame to leave. But how will we share the girl's longing for home, if home is not a gabby presence in her émigré tale? Tóibín's maneuvers draw us to the bright girl with a gift for numbers. With a keen eye, Eilis surveys her lonely, steady-on life: her job in the dry goods store, the rules and regulations of her rooming house — ladies only. The competitive hustle at the parish dances are so like the ones back home — it's something of a wonder I did not give up on the gentle tattle of her story, run a Netflix of the feline power struggle in Claire Booth Luce's The Women. Tóibín rescues his homesick shopgirl from narrow concerns, gives her a stop-by at Brooklyn College, a night course in commercial law. Her instructor is Joshua Rosenblum. Buying his book, the shopkeeper informs her, 'At least we did that, we got Rosenblum out.'
'You mean in the war?'
His reply when she asks again: 'In the holocaust, in the churben.'
The scene is eerie, falsely naïve. We may accept what a village girl from Ireland, which remained neutral during the war, may not have known, but Tóibín's delivery of the racial and ethnic discoveries of a clueless young woman are disconcerting. Eilis wonders if she should write home about the Jews, the Poles, the Italians she encounters, but shouldn't the novelist in pursuing those postwar years in Brooklyn, in the Irish enclave of the generous Father Flood, take the mike? The Irish vets I knew when I came to New York in the early '50s had been to that war; at least two I raised a glass with at the White Horse were from Brooklyn. When the stage is set for the love story, slowly and carefully as befits his serious girl, Tóibín is splendidly in control of Eilis's and Tony's courtship. He's Italian, you see, of a poor, caring family. I wanted to cast Brooklyn, with Rosalind Russell perfect for Rose, the sporty elder sister left to her career in Ireland. Can we get Philip Seymour Hoffman into that cassock again? J. Carol Naish, he played homeboy Italian, not the mob. I give away nothing in telling that the possibility of Eilis reclaiming an authentic and spirited life in Ireland turns Brooklyn into a stirring and satisfying moral tale. Tóibín, author of The Master, a fine-tuned novel on the lonely last years of Henry James, revisits, diminuendo, the wrenching finale of The Portrait of a Lady. What the future holds for Eilis in America is nothing like Isabel Archer's return to the morally corrupt Osmond. The decent fellow awaits. Will she be doomed to a tract house of the soul on Long Island? I hear John McCormick take the high note — alone in the gloaming with the shadows of the past — as Tóibín's good girl contemplates the lost promise of Brooklyn." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
For the second time in three weeks I have before me a work of fiction about the lives of Irish immigrants in the United States. Previously, it was Mary Beth Keane's heartfelt if slow-moving first novel, The Walking People. Now we have Brooklyn, the sixth novel by the eminent Irish writer Colm Toibin. Probably the timing is pure coincidence rather than evidence of a new literary trend,... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) but it's interesting that both books deal with the theme of persistent Irish identity in a new land and both evoke the deep homesickness that the Irish often feel here even as they strive to become thoroughly American. Toibin is an immensely gifted and accomplished writer who has covered a remarkable range of subjects from Henry James (in his novel The Master) to homosexuality (in Love in a Dark Time: Gay Lives from Wilde to Almodovar), so it comes as no surprise that Brooklyn is intelligent and affecting. What may surprise American readers, however, is how confidently familiar Toibin seems to be with New York City during the early 1950s, the period in which the novel is set. To be sure, he has had occasional teaching engagements in New York (and in Washington and Princeton as well), but they are unlikely to have taught him as much about, say, the Brooklyn Dodgers and "Singin' in the Rain" as is on display here. The period feeling of "Brooklyn" is genuine and impressive. At the center of the story is Eilis (a Celtic name that mean's "God's oath") Lacey, who is somewhere around 20 years old when the novel opens. She lives in a small town in Ireland with her widowed mother and her older sister, Rose, a smart, spirited 30-year-old. Eilis is studying bookkeeping and preparing for a conventional Irish life: "Eilis had always presumed that she would live in the town all her life, as her mother had done, knowing everyone, having the same friends and neighbours, the same routines in the same streets. She had expected that she would find a job in the town, and then marry someone and give up the job and have children." Then the unexpected happens. A priest visiting from the United States, Father Flood, takes a liking to Eilis and offers to sponsor her in Brooklyn, finding her a job with a merchant on Fulton Street and arranging a room for her in a boarding house for respectable young women. She has a bit of a timid streak — "She would prefer to stay at home, sleep in this room, live in this house, do without the (new) clothes and shoes" — but Rose urges her to seize the opportunity: "Rose, she realized, in making it easy for her to go, was giving up any real prospect of leaving this house herself and having her own house, with her own family. Eilis ... saw that in the future, as her mother got older and more frail, Rose would have to care for her even more, go up the steep steps of the stairs with trays of food and do the cleaning and cooking when her mother could not." As much to honor Rose's sacrifice as to improve her own prospects, Eilis goes to Liverpool and boards a liner there for New York. She's put into a cabin with a brusque, no-nonsense Englishwoman who turns out to be an unlikely but wholly endearing saint; the voyage is dreadful, but the woman makes it bearable. Eilis gets off to a good start at the store — she may be unassuming, but she's also competent and resourceful — but then she receives a batch of letters from home, and suddenly her head is filled with images of what she has left behind: "All this came to her like a terrible weight and she felt for a second that she was going to cry. It was as though an ache in her chest was trying to force tears down her cheeks despite her enormous effort to keep them back. She did not give in to whatever it was. She kept thinking, attempting to work out what was causing this new feeling that was like despondency, that was like how she felt when her father died and she watched them closing the coffin, the feeling that he would never see the world again and she would never be able to talk to him again." Her boss at the shop worries about her and calls on Father Flood. "You're homesick, that's all," he tells her. "Everybody gets it. But it passes. In some it passes more quickly than in others. There's nothing harder than it." To help her stay busy, he steers her to a night class "in bookkeeping and preliminary accountancy" at Brooklyn College. This proves to be her salvation. She passes the course easily, then does the same the following year, qualifying herself to work as a bookkeeper. Of even greater moment, at a dance sponsored by Father Flood at the parish hall, she meets a young man named Tony, who clearly is attracted to her. He is "clean-cut and friendly and open in his gaze." He is also Italian — his full name is Antonio Giuseppe Fiorello — and he works as a plumber, a trade that gives her pause, but only briefly as he woos her, with kindness and patience and infinite tact. He and his brothers are ardent Dodgers fans and eager to make their mark on the world; they've bought a piece of land on Long Island and aim to develop it into a family compound from which all of them can work at their trades. It takes a while, for Eilis is not one to take hasty plunges, but soon enough she returns Tony's love and begins to envision a future with him. Then terrible news arrives from Ireland, and she has no choice except to return. Almost immediately upon her arrival, various forces combine to pressure her into renouncing her new American life, to settle back into the set ways of her village. The choice, in the end, is difficult and painful. Brooklyn is a modest novel, but it has heft. The portrait Toibin paints of Brooklyn in the early '50s is affectionate but scarcely dewy-eyed; Eilis encounters discrimination in various forms — against Italians, against blacks, against Jews, against lower-class Irish — and finds Manhattan more intimidating than alluring. Toibin's prose is graceful but never showy, and his characters are uniformly interesting and believable. As a study of the quest for home and the difficulty of figuring out where it really is, Brooklyn has a universality that goes far beyond the specific details of Eilis' struggle. Jonathan Yardley's e-mail address is yardleyj(at symbol)washpost.com. Reviewed by Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
"[A]n aching lyricism reminiscent of the mature Henry James...[H]ighly recommended." Library Journal
"A fine and touching novel, persuasive proof of Tóibín's ever-increasing skills and range." Kirkus Reviews
Colm Tóibín...is an expert, patient fisherman of submerged emotions...[He] quietly, modestly shows how place can assert itself, enfolding the visitor, staking its claim." New York Times
From the award-winning author of The Master comes a moving historical novel set in Brooklyn and Ireland in the early 1950s, concerning a young woman torn between her family and her past in Ireland and the American who wins her heart.
From the award-winning author of The Master, a hauntingly compelling novel—by far TÓibÍn’s most accessible book—set in Brooklyn and Ireland in the early 1950s about a young woman torn between her family in Ireland and the american who wins her heart.
Eilis Lacey has come of age in small-town Ireland in the years following World War Two. Though skilled at bookkeeping, Eilis cannot find a proper job in the miserable Irish economy.
When an Irish priest from Brooklyn visits the household and offers to sponsor Eilis in America—to live and work in a Brooklyn neighborhood "just like Ireland"—she realizes she must go, leaving her fragile mother and sister behind.
Eilis finds work in a department store on Fulton Street, and studies accounting at Brooklyn College, and, when she least expects it, finds love. Tony, a blond Italian, slowly wins her over with persistent 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. Eilis is in love. But just as she begins to consider what this means, devastating news from Ireland threatens the promise of her new life.
With the emotional resonance of Alice McDermott’s At Weddings and Wakes, Brooklyn is by far TÓibÍn’s most inviting, engaging novel.
andlt;bandgt;From the award-winning author of andlt;iandgt;The Masterandlt;/iandgt;, a hauntingly compelling noveland#8212;by far Tand#243;iband#237;nand#8217;s most accessible bookand#8212;set in Brooklyn and Ireland in the early 1950s about a young woman torn between her family in Ireland and the american who wins her heart.andlt;BRandgt;andlt;/bandgt;andlt;BRandgt;Eilis Lacey has come of age in small-town Ireland in the years following World War Two. Though skilled at bookkeeping, Eilis cannot find a proper job in the miserable Irish economy. andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;When an Irish priest from Brooklyn visits the household and offers to sponsor Eilis in Americaand#8212;to live and work in a Brooklyn neighborhood "just like Ireland"and#8212;she realizes she must go, leaving her fragile mother and sister behind. andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;Eilis finds work in a department store on Fulton Street, and studies accounting at Brooklyn College, and, when she least expects it, finds love. Tony, a blond Italian, slowly wins her over with persistent 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. Eilis is in love. But just as she begins to consider what this means, devastating news from Ireland threatens the promise of her new life. andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;With the emotional resonance of Alice McDermottand#8217;s andlt;iandgt;At Weddings and Wakesandlt;/iandgt;, andlt;iandgt;Brooklyn andlt;/iandgt;is by far Tand#243;iband#237;nand#8217;s most inviting, engaging novel.andnbsp;
About the Author
Colm Tóibín is the author of five previous novels, The Master, The South, The Heather Blazing, The Story of the Night, and The Blackwater Lightship, which was shortlisted for the 1999 Booker Prize. He lives in Dublin.
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