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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 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.

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.

Topics: 1950s, Ireland, Brooklyn, Immigration, Family, Love, Coming of Age, Love Story, Working Class, Lyrical, Contemplative, Emotional, and Third Person Narration

Published: Scribner on May 5, 2009
ISBN: 9781439149829
List price: $10.99
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such a gentle heartfelt story.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
The story is simple; a girl moves away from her family, falls in love, goes home and falls in love with someone different and then picks between the two loves. But do not be fooled. The book fascinated me because of Toibin’s exquisite writing and attention to detail. I felt as if I was following the main character throughout the book due to the vivid imagery. Beautiful book.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I have a number of sources for discovering new writers. One fertile source is the Booker Prize, given annually to the best novel of the year. I have come to know many fine authors – Anne Enright, John Banville, and Ian McEwan to name a few. These prize-winning authors have given me many hours of pleasure, but the “also-rans” should not be neglected. One such author frequently short-listed for the prize is Colm Tóibín. Blackwater Lightship became my first experience with this wonderful Irish writer, who is currently a visiting professor at Princeton University. I have read three of his books, and Brooklyn represents a 180 degree shift from the tone and story-line of his previous works.Eilis Lacey has just finished vocational school, and she has a knack for figures. She helps out in a small shop in Enniscorthy, Ireland. Eilis lives with her mother and older sister Rose. Unfortunately, she cannot find a permanent job in her town, so when a priest visits the Laceys, Rose tells him about Eilis’ plight. He offers to get her emigration papers for America, with a promise of a job and a room in a respectable boarding house. Eilis seems unsure, but she knows her options are limited, so she decides to take the plunge and leave the Olde Sod for the new world.“New” is quite an understatement for Eilis. She finds herself on her own for the first time in a strange and wonderful land. She adapts well to her land lady, Mrs. Kehoe, and her roommates, who take her dancing. She makes new friends, and gets along well in her position as a counter girl at a department store. Set in the early 50s, she has all the innocence and sense of peace and happiness of that decade. A short bout of homesickness hardly slows her down at all.Unlike some of his other work, Tóibín does not delve into the dark underside of life and its difficulties here. Rather, his warm prose weaves a serene tale of life in rural Ireland and Brooklyn, NY. Eilis matures quickly, and develops a relationship with young man she meets at a dance. Tony is a gentleman in every sense of the word. On page 148, the first negative thing happens to Eilis. While walking Eilis home from her night classes, he spins a tale of American Baseball and his love for a particular team. Tóibín writes, “’You know what I really want ?’ he asked. ‘I want our kids to be Dodger fans.’ He was so pleased and excited at the idea, she thought, that he did not notice her face freezing.” Eilis was shocked at the speed Tony has pushed the relationship. As she does throughout the novel, Eilis turns the situation over and over in her mind, figuring from every angle how she should respond. When she does confront Tony, she does so perfectly. He understands and backs off.The best thing about Tóibín’s novels, however, is what can only be described as lovely prose. Eilis returns to Ireland for a visit, leaving a distraught Tony behind. Eilis thinks of him often, but doesn’t tell anyone. Tóibín writes, “not telling her mother or her friends made every day she had spent in America a sort of fantasy, something she could not match with the time she was spending at home. It made her feel strangely as though she were two people, one who had battled against two cold winters and many hard days in Brooklyn and fallen in love there, and the other who was her mother’s daughter, the Eilis whom everyone knew, or thought they knew” (226). Don’t mistake this novel for a romance. It is a sensitive and detailed portrait of a young woman coming of age and dealing with many changes in her life. Will she go back to Tony? Or stay with Jim Farrell in Enniscorthy? I won’t tell. You will have to float through this beautiful novel to find out. 5 stars. --Jim, 12/7/09read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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such a gentle heartfelt story.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
The story is simple; a girl moves away from her family, falls in love, goes home and falls in love with someone different and then picks between the two loves. But do not be fooled. The book fascinated me because of Toibin’s exquisite writing and attention to detail. I felt as if I was following the main character throughout the book due to the vivid imagery. Beautiful book.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I have a number of sources for discovering new writers. One fertile source is the Booker Prize, given annually to the best novel of the year. I have come to know many fine authors – Anne Enright, John Banville, and Ian McEwan to name a few. These prize-winning authors have given me many hours of pleasure, but the “also-rans” should not be neglected. One such author frequently short-listed for the prize is Colm Tóibín. Blackwater Lightship became my first experience with this wonderful Irish writer, who is currently a visiting professor at Princeton University. I have read three of his books, and Brooklyn represents a 180 degree shift from the tone and story-line of his previous works.Eilis Lacey has just finished vocational school, and she has a knack for figures. She helps out in a small shop in Enniscorthy, Ireland. Eilis lives with her mother and older sister Rose. Unfortunately, she cannot find a permanent job in her town, so when a priest visits the Laceys, Rose tells him about Eilis’ plight. He offers to get her emigration papers for America, with a promise of a job and a room in a respectable boarding house. Eilis seems unsure, but she knows her options are limited, so she decides to take the plunge and leave the Olde Sod for the new world.“New” is quite an understatement for Eilis. She finds herself on her own for the first time in a strange and wonderful land. She adapts well to her land lady, Mrs. Kehoe, and her roommates, who take her dancing. She makes new friends, and gets along well in her position as a counter girl at a department store. Set in the early 50s, she has all the innocence and sense of peace and happiness of that decade. A short bout of homesickness hardly slows her down at all.Unlike some of his other work, Tóibín does not delve into the dark underside of life and its difficulties here. Rather, his warm prose weaves a serene tale of life in rural Ireland and Brooklyn, NY. Eilis matures quickly, and develops a relationship with young man she meets at a dance. Tony is a gentleman in every sense of the word. On page 148, the first negative thing happens to Eilis. While walking Eilis home from her night classes, he spins a tale of American Baseball and his love for a particular team. Tóibín writes, “’You know what I really want ?’ he asked. ‘I want our kids to be Dodger fans.’ He was so pleased and excited at the idea, she thought, that he did not notice her face freezing.” Eilis was shocked at the speed Tony has pushed the relationship. As she does throughout the novel, Eilis turns the situation over and over in her mind, figuring from every angle how she should respond. When she does confront Tony, she does so perfectly. He understands and backs off.The best thing about Tóibín’s novels, however, is what can only be described as lovely prose. Eilis returns to Ireland for a visit, leaving a distraught Tony behind. Eilis thinks of him often, but doesn’t tell anyone. Tóibín writes, “not telling her mother or her friends made every day she had spent in America a sort of fantasy, something she could not match with the time she was spending at home. It made her feel strangely as though she were two people, one who had battled against two cold winters and many hard days in Brooklyn and fallen in love there, and the other who was her mother’s daughter, the Eilis whom everyone knew, or thought they knew” (226). Don’t mistake this novel for a romance. It is a sensitive and detailed portrait of a young woman coming of age and dealing with many changes in her life. Will she go back to Tony? Or stay with Jim Farrell in Enniscorthy? I won’t tell. You will have to float through this beautiful novel to find out. 5 stars. --Jim, 12/7/09
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
From the back:"Eiles Lacey has come of age in small-town Ireland in the hard years following World War Two. When an Irish priest from Brooklyn offers to sponsor Eilis in America, she decides she must go, leaving her fragile mother and her charismatic sister behind.Eiles finds work in a department store on Fulton Street and when she least expects it, find love. Tony, who loves the Dodgers and his big Italian family, slowly wins her over with patient charm. But just as Eiles begins to fall in love, devastating news from Ireland threatens the promise of her future." My review: Eiles was supposed to be "One of the unforgettable characters in contemporary literature" according to the Pittsburg Post-Gazette but I found her supremely annoying, bending with the wind with no moral compass or personality. I wanted to shake some sense into her. If that's what the author intended, he succeeded.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
This novel, about a young Irishwoman’s experiences in her birth country and the deracination she experiences when she moves to America, touched a deep chord in me. I found the observations on home-sickness and sadness beautifully measured and assured. They reminded me of my own first experiences away from home, and it is this resonant quality of Tóibín’s writing that I enjoyed most. The story is not remarkable in any way; there are no great plot twists, nor does Tóibín bother with any over-the-top scenes. In less assured hands, it could all seem very pedestrian, but Tóibín’s mastery is in making the ordinary seem extraordinary, taking a common little life and infusing it with dignity and interest.The heroine, Eilis, does not seem remarkable at all, at least initially, but through her experiences of pain and love, we come to see her as a fully rounded personality, with her own hopes and aspirations. One could easily dismiss her story as inconsequential, but that would be foolish. It is, after all, the little, seemingly inconsequential events that make up a life. And Eilis does experience monumental events in her own life, even if they do not seem so monumental to an indifferent observer.Tóibín handles Eilis’s burgeoning character expertly, especially when he describes her return to Ireland after a tragedy at home. The way he handles this tragedy, and its effects on Eilis and her family, together with a secret that Eilis has kept from her family, is truly masterly. He sets up tension without resorting to any outlandish tricks, making Eilis’s situation seem all the more universal. The book left me feeling sad at the seeming determinism of our lives, but also hopeful that we do have the ability to choose, whether for good or ill. That may seem somewhat trite, but any fiction that makes one consider your own choices in life seems, to me, to be doing something right.I found Tóibín’s unadorned style refreshing, but a bit anaemic at times. That sounds a bit contradictory, but what I am trying to say is that I enjoyed the purity of the prose, but I wanted a bit more red meat. I tend to prefer a more descriptive style of writing – not necessarily purple patches, but cross-hatched colouring. Perhaps the argument could be made that this style fits the nature of the story. Or perhaps this is just the way Tóibín always writes. Either way, this is not really a criticism, just a preference. On the whole, a beautifully understated book, which I recommended for anyone who likes thoughtful literature. I will definitely be reading more of Colm Tóibín.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I liked the book although I was constantly distracted by trying to figure out the exact time period and what Eilis looked like and how old she was exactly. The book was well written, but it was hard to like the character. Everything was handed to her and everyone wanted to help her. She fell into coming to America, she had a steady job and a decent place to live. It was almost as if she didn't care either way about her relationship with Tony. I would have liked to see what happened when she got back to Brooklyn and how her life with Tony ended up. Overall, I enjoyed reading about this slice of Irish immigrant life even if I couldn't bring myself to like her.
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