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.
Synopsis from hardcover book, 262 pages, copyright 2009 and published by Scribner.
Brooklyn has been on my to read for some time and I am glad that we have decided to read it for our monthly read.
The movie Brooklyn based on the book is also available on DVD so I will be checking it out and comparing the two soon, I hope!
Colm Toibin is a new author to me and I am glad to have discovered another good author.
I enjoyed reading Brooklyn, whose foundation is about the migrant experience of a young woman and her coming of age as well.
This was a lovely story about the immigration experience. Here’s why I liked it:
I’d have to say that I liked the story line the best.
Brooklyn is about a young woman who crosses the ocean from Ireland to start a new life in America in the1950s.
Father Flood, an Irish priest from Brooklyn visits Enniscorthy and suggests that Eilis should go to work in America and that he would sponsor her.
Eilis decides to go to America.
When Eilis settles in Brooklyn, she finds that she is very lonely and gets depressed. Eilis becomes happier once Father Flood signs her up for night school and when she meets Tony, an Italian man whom she starts dating.
Brooklyn is a character driven story and not plot driven so the pace is relaxed.
The second best thing about Brooklyn is the author style of prose. It was beautiful written.
I loved how easy it was to read. It’s a smaller than your average book at 262 pages, but it packed in so much more. Though the beginning was a bit slow, the story did get moving once we get to America.
What won me over was the tone of this book. Toibin does a great job in capturing the 1950s era. The strength of his writing was the way he describes Enniscorthy and Brooklyn and made it feel so real. The depiction of these two places was impressive!
I found Toibin’s writing engaging and emotional satisfying. It was a beautifully written story.
I enjoyed the variety of characters in Brooklyn. Some of the characters really showcase the Irish way of life and what it means to be Irish in another country in the 1950s. Other characters also highlighted the interesting nature of the migrant experience.
- Eilis Lacey
As a younger sister and taken care by her older sister Rose and her mother Mrs. Lacey, Eilis is quite passive in how she reacts to the arrangements made for her to go to America.
Eilis does grow and come into herself when she is in America. She becomes independent and takes opportunities and embraces what the new world has to offer.
The changes in Eilis is evident when she goes back to Enniscorthy and her friend comments on how she is different and have an air about her.
- Father Flood
Father Flood is an important figure in Eilis’ life. He sponsored Eilis and feels responsible for her well being.
Father Flood knows that Eilis is smart and helps her when she is depressed from being homesick by enrolling her into Brooklyn college.
He has a wide network of influence and is able to get Eilis’ tuition paid by a congregation member. He also succeeded in getting Eilis a full work permit rather than a temporary one, which shows how wide and high his network influence is.
Father Flood works hard in helping the community and the Irish expats.
- Antonio Giuseppe Fiorello (AKA Tony)
Tony is a young Italian man who is warm and easy going. He is a plumber by trade and lives with his family in a two bed apartment.
Tony makes his feelings known to Eilis at the start of their relationship. He is ready to settle down and has plans about the future.
- Jim Farrell
Jim is an only child and is son of a wealthy pub owner. He is shy and reserved. He is perceived as bad-mannered and arrogance because of his shyness. This is the first impression Eilis has of him.
Jim’s personality is the opposite of Tony but Eilis enjoys his company after a few dates. Eilis enjoys the attention from Jim and though her mother thinks Jim as a good catch, Eilis is not sure they could have a future together.
Mrs Lacey, Rose Lacey, Mrs Kehoe, and Laura Fortini are also key characters in Eilis’ life. Each have a strong impact on Eilis.
One of the interesting about this book is the different themes that come up. The migrant experience, love, family, social divide, faith, change, loss, identity, gender roles are some the main ideas.
As with any migration experiences, family is a theme that comes up. Eilis has left home to start a new life in America and it is hard for her because she only knows of Father Flood. She misses her family in Ireland.
I thought the ending was okay and appropriate where Toibin stopped the story, but I was a bit unsatisfied with how he got to the ending. Specifically, I didn’t like that we didn’t know exactly what Eilis’ reasons were for going back. I felt that part need a bit more clarity.
I get that there is conflict in Eilis about where her future lies and maybe that is what Toibin intended by making it ambiguous. Her feelings and what she had to do were two different things.
I felt a bit sad that Eilis had realized that she married Tony too hastily and now maybe she regret it since she met Jim Farrell. However, Eilis also realizes that although she likes Jim, she couldn’t see them having a future either.
Overall, the ending was what I had expected.
I would have love to have an epilogue… but I think that’s asking too much!
My Final Thoughts
Brooklyn by Colm Toibin was charming and a good read.
I enjoyed the beautiful writing, especially the fantastic depiction of the 1950s time period. I loved the coming of age of Eilis and her experiences in Enniscorthy and Brooklyn.
I loved the migrant experience as it was explored through the eyes a young Irish girl, from naivety to maturity.
Overall, Brooklyn was an enjoyable read.
Belong to a book club? Check out our book club discussion question for Brooklyn.