Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

Brooklyn: A NovelBrooklyn by Colm Toibin
Description from Goodreads:

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 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.

My take:
Brooklyn by Colm Toibin is a beautifully written book about Eilis Lacey, the younger daughter of a poor Irish family in Enniscorthy. There are no chapters in the book - it is divided into four parts with periodic breaks that can make decent stopping points while reading. I feel divided in my opinion of this book.  I thought it was beautiful, haunting, and as with most Irish literature I have read, very sad.  There were points in the book where I really liked and admired Eilis and there were others when I just wanted to shake her.  A good portion of my frustration was with the way she just follows every one's orders and even their suggestions without much question. At times it seemed as though she had no thoughts or ideas of her own about where her life should go.  At other times, she handled herself very well and made pretty decent decisions. Of course, many of her attitudes had to do with the time period in which the story takes place and the relative powerlessness of women to shape their own lives.  Another part, I suspect, had to do with where she was from.  The contrast between her hometown of Enniscorthy, Ireland and her adopted town of Brooklyn, New York was made starkly clear when she returns home towards the end of the book.  She returns home a changed woman -- everyone thinks she is so sophisticated and modern because of her clothes and the way she carries herself. Overall, I like the book, but from a modern female perspective, I was annoyed by what prompted many of her decisions; she seemed to wait until someone forced her make a decision by their actions or threats or simply telling her what they thought she should do.

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