New York Times Book Review
Morning News Tournament of Books Nominee|
Notable Book of the Year
Los Angeles Times Book Review Favorite Book of the Year
Synopses & Reviews
Since her girlhood, Prudence Winship has gazed across the tidal straits from her home in Brooklyn to the city of Manhattan and yearned to bridge the distance. Now, established as the owner of the enormously successful gin distillery she inherited from her father, she can begin to realize her dream.
Set in eighteenth-century Brooklyn, this is the story of a determined and intelligent woman who is consumed by a vision of a bridge: a gargantuan construction of timber and masonry she devises to cross the East River in a single, magnificent span. With the help of the local surveyor, Benjamin Horsfield, and her sisters the high-spirited, obstreperous Tem, who works with her in the distillery, and the silent, uncanny Pearl she fires the imaginations of the people of Brooklyn and New York by promising them a bridge that will meet their most pressing practical needs while being one of the most ambitious public works ever attempted. Prue's own life and the life of the bridge become inextricably bound together as the costs of the bridge, both financial and human, rise beyond her direst expectations.
Brookland confirms Emily Barton's reputation as one of the finest writers of her generation, whose work is "blessedly post-ironic, engaging and heartfelt" (Thomas Pynchon).
"A poignant tale of sisters who run a gin distillery in late 18th-century Brooklyn frames Barton's stalwart, evocative second novel, centering on early attempts at building a bridge across the East River to Manhattan. The Winship family Matty, Roxana and their three daughters, Prue, Pearl and Tem establish a distillery on the eastern bank of the East River in colonial days, weathering Revolutionary loyalties and brutish conditions. Practical oldest daughter Prue is trained in the working of the distillery and proves the prefeminist visionary, keeping an eye toward building a kind of springboard between Manhattan and Brookland, as the cluster of communities on that side of the river are called. Barton's richly detailed narrative assumes the form of letters Prue writes to her grown married daughter, Recompense, who is expecting her first child, and asks about the history of the failed 'bridgeworks' in order to fill in troubling gaps about the family. Indeed, once Prue takes over the distillery after her father's death and marries, the building of the bridge becomes an ide fixe, to which she sacrifices the happiness of sister Pearl and the reputation of her husband. Following The Testament of Yves Gundron, Barton fashions an enchanting saga for her sophomore effort; it is a major New York book of the season." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[Prue] is a thorny, struggling soul. Together with the book's profound treatment of the spiritual ills born of the Enlightenment, this wonderful character is Bartons main gift to us." Joan Acocella, the New Yorker
"Marvelous...So much modern fiction thinks small, feels small. Emily Barton will never be accused of either....Brookland turns out to be a story not just of risk, daring and ambition, but of the courage to fail and the courage to live on after failing." Christopher Corbett, the New York Times Book Review
"Ms. Barton's prose voice is as good and supple as anything being written in America today. But in its 'period' tone (if that's the word), it reaffirms the unswerving adage of the novel reader: Describe a world well enough and I am its member. This is the voice of a great novelist." David Thomson, the New York Observer
"In Brookland, Emily Barton has taken an elegant way with questions of thought-provoking substance and has made a very fine and satisfying novel. And, if there is heartbreak at its end, those hearts are broken over things that mattered then and still." Los Angeles Times
"[A] work of such grandeur that it evokes Tolstoy's genius for scope and story." San Diego Union-Tribune
"No historical novel in recent memory has amassed such an imposing wealth of rich period detail, and few novels of any genre extend an increasingly absorbing story to such a powerful, sorrowful conclusion. A brilliant book that should be a strong Pulitzer Prize contender." Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
Set in eighteenth-century Brooklyn, this is the story of a determined and intelligent woman who is consumed by a vision of a bridge she devises to cross the East River in a single, magnificent span.
A New York Times Book Review Notable Book of the YearA Los Angeles Times Book Review Favorite Book of the Year
Since her girlhood, Prudence Winship has gazed across the tidal straits from her home in Brooklyn to the city of Manhattan and yearned to bridge the distance. Now, firmly established as the owner of an enormously successful gin distillery she inherited from her father, she can begin to realize her dream.
Set in eighteenth-century Brooklyn, this is the beautifully written story of a woman with a vision: a gargantuan construction of timber and masonry to span the East River. With the help of her sisters--high-spirited Tem and silent, uncanny Pearl--Prue fires the imaginations of the people of Brooklyn and New York by promising them easy passage between their two worlds.
About the Author
Emily Barton's fiction has appeared in Story, American Short Fiction, and Conjunctions. Her first novel, The Testament of Yves Gundron, called "blessedly post-ironic, engaging, and heartfelt" by Thomas Pynchon, won the Bard Fiction Prize and was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. She is the recipient of a 2006 artist's grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and a 2006 fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Reading Group Guide
1. How were you affected by the presence of Prues letters? How does her storytelling compare to that in the rest of the novel?
2. Discuss the pivotal scene from Prues childhood in which she batters her doll (chapter one). How would you characterize Prues feelings toward Pearl throughout her life? Would their trust have been shattered later in life regardless of Prues guilt about her alleged hex?
3. What role does religion play in the village of Brookland? How is Mattys atheism received, and how does it affect his daughters attitude toward death and suffering? How is Ezra Fischers Judaism received? What distinctions are made between Protestants and Catholics?
4. Do Prue, Tem, and Pearl share any traits derived from their upbringing? How did they cope with the deaths of their parents?
5. Anyone familiar with Brooklyn Heights will recognize location names from the families described in the novel, including the Pierreponts, the Joralemons, the Remsens, and the Livingstons. How did the history presented in Brookland compare to your previous impressions of Brooklyns early European settlers? What images surprised you the most?
6. To varying degrees, the Winship daughters are faced with sexism and stereotypes. How did each of them respond to this in charting the course of her life? Would you have married Ben, knowing it meant technically relinquishing your fathers company to him?
7. Chapter nine, "The Dream," describes both Prues nightmare regarding Pearl and her dream of building the bridge. Are these two visions related? What does the bridge ultimately come to represent in Prues life?
8. In what ways did the novels depictions of slavery, particularly in the characters of Johanna and Abiah, differ from depictions of slavery in fiction set in the South? What did you discover about the abolition process in New York discussed in chapter eighteen?
9. Prudence, Temperance, and Recompense: Is there irony in these character names?
10. Was Pearl ever truly heard by her family or by Will Severn?
11. The novels epigraph, which includes Yosa Busons lines, "You are the slaves/of chrysanthemums!" captures many aspects of Prues life. To what is she enslaved? What is the source of her liberation?
12. Discuss the effect of gin as the commodity of choice to drive the novels storyline. How is Brookland enhanced by the fact that the Winships livelihood depends on alcohol consumption?
13. What impact did the hazards of their era—timber fires, infant mortality, epidemics, gruesome on-the-job accidents—have on the Winship daughters? Did they possess a deeper appreciation for life because of such hazards?
14. Prue would not have lived long enough to see John Roeblings Brooklyn Bridge, which was completed in 1883 after more than a decade of hazardous, multi-million-dollar construction. As in the novel, many Brooklynites opposed the bridge and sought to keep a cultural distance from Manhattan. What might Prue have thought of present-day Brooklyn and its role as a borough of New York City?
15. How would Bens presentation tactics have fared in the world of contemporary public works projects? Has the process for acquiring such funding changed very much over the past two centuries? What is the modern-day equivalent of Prues bridge? Can you think of an outrageous invention that has been widely wished for but never successfully built?
16. What do you imagine Pearls fate to be? What unresolved answers lurk in your family legacy, akin the way Recompense continues to hope she will find her aunt?
17. What similarities and differences exist between Brookland and Emily Bartons debut novel, The Testament of Yves Gundron? What makes her approach to storytelling unique?