Monday, 13 July 2009

Brooklyn


Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín is an intensely understated and even simple novel, which is not a disparagement; if anything it is testimony to how great it is to read a novel with no frills at times, stripped back to the writing and evoking of emotions. It is about Eilis Lacey who leaves her mother and sister (her father is dead and her brothers have gone to England for work) and her hometown of Enniscorthy for a job and a new way of life in 1950s Brooklyn.

This is not a new story, but a story as old almost as America. The Irish diaspora in the United States and elsewhere is a well-known tale. My own great-grandparents emigrated to America, to Chicago, in the late 1920s. In the early 1950s when "Eilis Lacey is one among many of her generation who cannot find work at home" my grandparents -separately- both left Ireland in search of work in Glasgow. I didn't fully appreciate the magnitude of this until reading the emotions of Eilis -and her brothers- described and I empathised, as almost sixty years later I have done likewise by moving to London in search of a career. People leaving their loved ones is not a new story at all.

I say "leaving their loved ones" not "for work" but as a general phrase because two years after Eilis has settled in Brooklyn -after the homesickness subsided- and is happy in her work and her studies and has a boyfriend, Tony, an Italian boy from Brooklyn, tragedy
and familial obligation call her back to Ireland. Again Eilis is having to leave her loved ones for further shores and it's good to be home but it comes with confusion and conflict as new opportunties -previously unavailable- present themselves. Inevitability ensues.

This book resonated with me. I understand the pressures of having left home and family behind, of being committed to someone and somewhere else, of the conflict and the pressure of family obligation...
Tóibín took a well-worn story and made it new, made it relevant. Even if you cannot identify with the specifics and the "terrible choice between personal freedom and duty" you will be caught up in the straightforward story of a young girl growing up.

6 comments:

farmlanebooks said...

I'm pleased you enjoyed it. I wanted to get this out of the library at the weekend, but there were no copies left, so I'll have to wait another few weeks. Nevermind!

Paperback Reader said...

I hope you find it worth the wait. I had to request it and wait for a few weeks too and then it sat on the library TBR pile for another couple!

JoAnn said...

This book really struck a chord with me, too. Now I'm looking for The Blackwater Lightship.

Paperback Reader said...

I would be very interested in reading more of his work; I have a copy of The South somewhere.

Samantha said...

This is my favourite book of the year so far!

Paperback Reader said...

Samantha, again it was your influence that persuaded me to pick this up of the TBR pile and I am so glad that I did :). It is definitely *one* of my favourites of the year so far.