Perhaps some readers saw the 2015 movie version of this book. I did not, but I liked the book. It’s a heart warming coming-of-age look at an immigrant’s story that was new to me. We’ve all read of families who come to America to start new lives — stories that continue to this day. Brooklyn is the story of a young Irish woman, Eilis Lacey, who comes of age in a small town in Ireland during the difficult years following World War II.
Times are hard in Ireland and jobs are scarce. The head of the family has died and Eilis’ three brothers left to find work in England. Her older sister Rose works in an office, and although Eilis has bookkeeping training, the only job she can find is working part time in a grocery store for an embittered female owner. A visiting Irish priest from Brooklyn offers to sponsor Eilis to come to America. She makes the difficult decision to leave her fragile mother and charismatic sister.
The naïve young Irish woman learns many lessons, beginning with the voyage across the Atlantic Ocean when she eats heartily the first night and spends the next several days confined to her bunk with sea sickness. Once in Brooklyn, she blossoms through hard work, honesty and sincerity. She works on the sales floor of a department street on Fulton Street. Realizing that education is the key to advancement, she takes night classes at a local college.
It’s touching to read of her development as a strong young woman as though watching a painting come together stroke by stroke. Eilis finds love with a young Italian man who has become thoroughly Americanized, complete with being an avid Dodgers fan. As the couple begins planning their future together, family tragedy calls Eilis back to Ireland. Back home, she realizes that she too has become Americanized and is faced with serious decisions about her future.
Brooklyn was shortlisted for Great Britain’s Man Booker Prize, the third such honor for Toibin, the author of seven novels. He won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in fiction for The Master.
By Colm Toibin
Published by Scribner