Author: Colm Tóibín
Read: 12th December 2015
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Culture (Ireland, America), Immigration
It is Ireland in the early 1950s and for Eilis Lacey, as for so many young Irish girls, opportunities are scarce. So when her sister arranges for her to emigrate to New York, Eilis knows she must go. Arriving in a crowded lodging house in Brooklyn, Eilis can only be reminded of what she has sacrificed. And just as she takes tentative steps towards friendship, and perhaps something more, Eilis receives news which sends her back to Ireland. There she will be confronted by a terrible dilemma – a devastating choice between duty and one great love.
warning, there are some spoilers in this review ~
I won’t lie, the main reason I picked this book up was because Saoirse Ronan and Domhnall Gleeson are on this cover. I thought, hm, I like these people, little bit of home town pride, I’ll give it a try. Also, I had been told by a few older people that Colm Tóibín was a good writer. All the Irish pride to be honest.
The book starts off in Ireland, in Wexford Town, where Eilis Lacey lives with her sister and her mother. Her brothers have all gone to England to work as there is very little opportunity to find good jobs in rural 1950’s Ireland – don’t be fooled by the ‘town’ part of Wexford Town. It’s still very much the countryside. With many girls moving to Dublin to find jobs, such as I know my own Nanny (who is from Wexford) had to do, Eilis knows she could find a good job there, but is unable to afford the move to Dublin. She and her sister are all her mother have left now. But her sister, Rose, who has a job and goes golfing, is able to set it up so that Eilis can emigrate to Brooklyn and find work for herself. A priest from Brooklyn, who is over visiting, is the one to ensure Eilis a job and lodgings in Brooklyn, as well as the papers she needs to move to New York.
For Eilis, who has never left home before, this is a huge opportunity as well as the scariest thing she has done in her life. She takes the ferry to England where she meets with her brother for a few hours before boarding the ship to America. After rough seas and several nights in stuffy conditions, Eilis makes it to America, where her new life will begin.
As is typical for most Irish girls from rural areas in the 50’s who lived with their mothers for many years past eighteen, Eilis is shy and unsure of herself. She doesn’t know how to act in this new environment and so follows the advise of the priest, volunteering at the church and keeping her nose clean. She finds it hard to get along with the girls at the boarding house but does her best to fit in around the strict and nosey landlady – who is also Irish. She meets Tony, an Italian American who Eilis originally thinks is Irish American until he comes clean. Not that she minds, as she starts a life with him and is soon forgetting about the one she has left behind. Of course, she still sends presents home to Ireland and constantly sends letters back to her family.
And then, she is dragged back to Ireland by Rose’s death. Tony, not wanting to lose Eilis after being with her for two years and guessing that she might not return to Brooklyn once she has gone back to Ireland, asks her to marry him. Eilis agrees, but keeps it a secret from every one. She returns to Ireland to keep her mother company and stays for several weeks as she learns that her friend is to be married and she realises she should stay for the wedding. Of course, Eilis has changed a lot in the years she has been gone and is the talk of the town once she returns. She finds herself drawn to Jim Farrell, the man who is to own the local pub once his parents retire, who previous said nothing to her and now that she has returned he sees his opportunity to set things right and to see if he has a chance with her as she takes a day of accounting work for the firm Rose used to work at. But as letters come from Tony, Eilis realises that her life is in Brooklyn now. She comes clean to her mother about her marriage and while disappointed that she can’t stay and that she didn’t tell her sooner, her mother urges her to return to her husband.
A story of new beginnings, different life chances and a different way of life, Brooklyn is very true to how so many Irish people left Ireland in search of a better life and never returned once they had found it. Although the character of Eilis is a little flat, the story is a good one for such a short book and I did enjoy reading it.
If you like books about Ireland, this is a good one. The Irish people are portrayed as Irish people are, not the way a lot of Americans would perceive them to be, with the insane accents and other such things. Sorry, Americans, but a lot of the time you get us pretty wrong. It’s a short sweet tale of one girl’s journey to American and how she dealt with her new life there. If you like short books that are good for a quick read, you’ll like this book.
I have given this book a 4/5🌟