Book Review: Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín


Title: Brooklyn

Author: Colm Tóibín

Published: 2009

Pages: 262

Genre: Historical Fiction

Format: Book borrowed from the library

My rating:  3/5

Reading Challenge: A book with a one-word title


“Eilis 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 — 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, who loves the Dodgers and his big Italian family, slowly wins her over with patient charm. But just as Eilis begins to fall in love with Tony, devastating news from Ireland threatens the promise of her future.”

A quick read for sure that spends little time on scenes as smooth transitions are made throughout the 2 years Brooklyn takes place. In the third-person specifically on Eilis,  I would have liked more of her thought process and emotions, especially with the devastating news from Ireland. I felt that the story seemed rushed near the end, as actions that Eilis was taking brought out frustration and some disappointment. Reflecting on how I felt about Eilis near the end, I believe that that is how a character should be developed throughout the novel – changing our thoughts and wanting the best for them as trouble persists. It is somewhat realistic and should be expected even though we as readers may be surprised!

As one of my favorite time periods to read and learn about in U.S. history, I was pleasantly appreciative of Eilis’ 2 worlds – in Brooklyn and Ireland. The dichotomy presented of the two locations was definitive and painted the picture of culture and familial themes. Not only were the locations starkly different, it felt that Eilis created two different lives or versions of her self. This made me think about what we call home and if we can have the best of both worlds. Eilis’ struggle to figure out if she can, makes me think that it would become quite challenging keeping the connections and focus on both (maybe multiple). Coming out to the MidWest from the East Coast (although in the same country), I felt a chance to kind of start over – whilst still holding true to my values and personality – but join different organizations and teams. Whenever I go to the East Coast where my family is, I feel myself falling back into those routines again, like a pendulum. I can only imagine what folks who are making a better life or seizing an opportunity feel, sometimes having no choice.

With all the talk about immigration in the United States, in addition to the hot topic of presidential debates for the 2016 race, I couldn’t help but wonder what has changed from the 1950s to now – the populations the U.S. is concentrating on are from Mexico versus Ireland. There is talk about building a wall on the border and some other ways of regulating the process (I will not speak directly about my feelings/opinions towards immigration laws, I am only making statements about themes I read and reflected on in Brooklyn). To play the reversal, I do think about a potential dual citizenship in Europe, and I’m wondering what processes for that looks like. I’d imagine I would adjust to the culture ‘shock’ and feel more comfortable with everyday tasks the longer I stayed. Eilis’ time throughout the novel equated to 2 years in the U.S. where she was able to acclimate fairly well. *Sigh*, I digress. A simple read that gives way to somewhat complex thought on issues bigger than one person or population.

Read Brooklyn if you like the themes of:

  • Immigration
  • Homesickness
  • Love

Look out for the movie adaptation in theaters, November 6th, 2015! Until then, here’s a trailer to give some visual context to the story.

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