Brooklyn / Colm Tóibín

Brooklyn is the sixth novel from Colm Tóibín, and the second that I’ve read by this talented Irish author. What makes his novels special is the masterful storytelling that features characters fully brought to life, warts and all. Set in the 1950s, Brooklyn focuses on the journey into adulthood of Eilis Lacey, a young Irish woman, as she migrates from a small town in provincial Ireland to the United States. Unable to find work at home, when an Irish priest from Brooklyn offers to sponsor Eilis in America, she reluctantly decides to leave her widowed mother and older sister and relocate to a strange country. Tóibín does a marvelous job of portraying Eilis’ torn emotions as she sets out to make a new life overseas, and his description of her roiling journey by ship is sure to leave a good many readers feeling a bit seasick themselves. He also vividly captures her initial homesickness once she settles in an Irish boardinghouse in a Brooklyn neighborhood. Eilis soon finds work in a large department store, and when she least expects it, a suitor appears, intent on winning her affection. A blond Italian from a large Catholic family, Tony is clearly determined to win her hand in marriage. But just as Eilis begins to fall in love with him, devastating news comes from home. Her older sister has died unexpectedly, and Eilis is being encouraged by family members to return and provide comfort to her grief stricken mother. She decides to do so, with every intention of returning to Tony in a month’s time. But once she gets home, it is clear that her mother is determined to keep Eilis in Ireland. In the final chapters, Tóibín builds suspense in regards to what this young woman’s decision will be. His conclusion features several unexpected twists. This coming of age story vividly recreates the rhythm of life in the 1950s in both a backwater Irish town and a bustling American big city. Its beautiful prose breathes life into instantly likeable characters, hauntingly portrayed. If not familiar with this Irish writer, this novel will make you a fan.

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