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Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín

Brooklyn (edition 2010)

by Colm Tóibín

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
5,0762892,041 (3.7)515
In Ireland in the early 1950s, Eilis Lacey is one of many who cannot find work at home. Thus when a job is offered in America, it is clear to everyone that she must go. Leaving behind her family and country, Eilis heads for unfamiliar Brooklyn, and to a crowded boarding house where the landlady's intense scrutiny and the small jealousies of her fellow residents only deepen her isolation. Slowly, the pain of parting is buried beneath the rhythms of her new life -- and finally, she begins to realize that she has found a sort of happiness. As she falls in love, news comes from home that forces her back to Enniscorthy -- not to the constrictions of her old life, but to new possibilities which conflict deeply with the life she has left behind in Brooklyn.… (more)
Authors:Colm Tóibín
Info:Penguin (2010), Paperback, 256 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:read 2010, historical fiction, literary fiction

Work Information

Brooklyn by Colm TÓIBÍN

  1. 60
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    anglemark: There's something about the laconic prose and the description of a young person's plight that made me associate these two books with each other.

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» See also 515 mentions

English (273)  Spanish (4)  German (3)  Catalan (2)  Finnish (2)  Dutch (1)  French (1)  Norwegian (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (288)
Showing 1-5 of 273 (next | show all)
Where do I begin? I could begin like the author and take half of the novel to tell you what could be summed up in 5 pages beautifully? Or I could be like the author and take the second half to move the story and the character around at breakneck speed without any insight into how why or where or what the point was?
Bottom line it had more potential than product. You want to care for the character but she's so aloof even to the reader. No one in her family knows where their voice is and their ability to communicate with each other is just as bad as the author's communication with the reader. There were some great moments and then they fell flat. Everything the book was leading up to dropped on the last page. I don't need a nice neat wrap up with a book but I do like to finish the book without the feeling that the library possibly ripped out the last 35 pages as a cruel joke to me. ( )
  MsTera | Oct 10, 2023 |
This novel presents an unflattering picture of Ireland in the 1950s as a conservative backwater, which is contrasted with Brooklyn where life, if not perfect, at least has the possibility of growth and change.
Written in Tóibín’s usual understated, observational style, it shows the limited options open to a young woman in a small Irish town (apparently, the same town in which Tóibín spent his childhood). The only viable option for Eilis seems to be working part-time in the small shop where everyone knows her and the owner does not respect her until she gets married to one of the local boys. When she gets a chance to start a new life in a faraway country where she doesn’t know what to expect, she knows it’s the best option she’ll ever see.
Eilis seems to fall into the events of her life rather than to choose them, although she does have ideas of her own. She doesn’t want to spend the rest of her life married in the village, even if she doesn’t see a way out until her sister arranges for her to move to America. She doesn’t quite want to fall into married life in America either, although she does choose marriage in the end. Perhaps Tóibín is pointing to an ambivalence among Irish (and other) emigrants – they don’t really want to leave the comfort of the familiar, however limited that may be, but economic or political factors push them to make choices that shape their future. Many immigrants continue to feel that ambivalence throughout their lives, particularly when they are faced with discrimination in their new home. Tóibín doesn’t go into the anti-Irish prejudice that many found in the Americas, and probably that had diminished significantly in the 1950s. In fact, the life he shows for Eilis is almost idealized. She is welcomed by her Italian boyfriend and her American employers, pursues an education and finds new job opportunities. It seems remarkably free from challenges except for her homesickness. Tóibín does give a concrete picture of the lives in the immigrant community – the close living conditions, poverty, the struggle to fit into an unknown society and constant homesickness. But they have time for dances, picnics at the beach, the occasional luxury, and they have hope for their future.
In her relatively comfortable material conditions, the struggles Eilis faces are mainly psychological. Should she marry the nice guy who cares for her and offers her a secure home? Should she hold out for something undefined but different? Should she make her independent way for a while longer? For Eilis, and perhaps for many women in the 1950s, these might be difficult choices. And in the changing social mores of the 1950s, they were probably difficult questions for many women to feel comfortable with. Tóibín presents them without leaning to any side, although readers might see them with less ambivalence today. (Come on, Eilis, just make a decision and get on with it!) She grows to become more confident in her job and her classes, even while she can’t decide what she wants emotionally. But of course, the emotional choices are the hardest ones. The psychological portrait reminds me of Henry James’ psychological probing, but in a much more contemporary and working class setting. With all the psychological pondering, the actual events that take place in the story seem curiously underplayed and anticlimactic.
In the end, Eilis sees Ireland as conservative and unchanging. She views her sister’s grave in a treeless, dead cemetery. She still feels ambivalent about it, but her final choice seems inevitable. She will go where the sees that she can grow. And this seems to reflect Tóibín’s own choices – growing up and leaving the small Irish village of Eniscorthy, leaving the country and settling down in the USA. In interviews, he says that he still feels drawn to Ireland, but he could no longer live there. ( )
  rab1953 | Aug 9, 2023 |
I found the writing to be a little stilted, which was a surprise. The movie felt, in a word, lyrical, and I expected that a lot of that came from the book but nope, not the case. I had picked up this book because I wanted the feel of the movie, and also because I felt like, for all the lyricalness of it, the movie had some gaps; I thought that the book would fill those. I think that the book did a good job of telling us about Eilish and her immigrant experience, but it was very much telling from a remove, not inviting us in to feel it with her.

I was very surprised at how clearly the book showed that she only went back to Brooklyn because she was caught out in her deception, and that if she had been able to get away with it she would have somehow stayed and married Jim. In the movie I remember it being much more "I left Ireland because of catty bitches like you!", and Eilish feeling glad to leave. Much more ambiguity, which was interesting.
( )
  blueskygreentrees | Jul 30, 2023 |
I've got about 20 pages left. Really great characters. Colm Toibin really has a way of creating an atmosphere that is lovely despite its somewhat depressing subject matter. This story definitely brings back memories of moving away from home and starting something new. Most gripping to me personally is the perfectly captured essence of how it feels to return home after having left for the first time, and how it wasn't (and still isn't) at all as one expects.

Finished it... good book, but pretty bleak outlook. Felt sad at the end. Very realistic. ( )
  Andy5185 | Jul 9, 2023 |
This is a pretty simple story, of a girl who seems to sort of drift through her life. It starts in Ireland sometime after WWII. Eilis is persuaded by her sister (who is very successful and popular in their little town), to go to America and seek her fortune there. Eilis doesn't seem to have much passion or conviction one way or the other, but just bows to her sister's will, and finds herself in Brooklyn, living in a boarding house with other Irish girls, run by an Irish woman, working in a department store run by Italians. She figures out how to live in this new environment, battling homesickness without really understanding that's what's happening, and eventually finds a routine. Eventually she meets a nice man and gets involved with him, although she doesn't share much information about her first real relationship with the girls she lives with or her family back home, because he is Italian, and it somehow doesn't seem right to talk about it. The most stressful thing in her life is whether to talk about her "mixed race" relationship. Then, tragedy strikes back home, and she has to decide whether to go there and help deal with the fallout. She ends up going, and finds herself dealing with the immigrant's dilemma: not quite belonging at home any more, but not sure she really feels connected to her "new home" across the ocean. Her fate seems decided for her, by the force of actions she takes mostly on the impetus of others. Eilis is a sweet girl, and it's a nice story, but it is frustrating, because I got the impression this will be a person who will never be truly happy or passionate about anything. Maybe it hit too close to home, because I am a person who is content to be content. I guess I just want to read about people who have bigger lives than mine. Which is weird, because I love books with stories of real lives and real people. I did give this 5 stars, because it is better than most books I've been reading, and I was compelled to keep reading until it was done. It was a lovely read. ( )
  karenchase | Jun 14, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 273 (next | show all)
Ultimately, Brooklyn does not feel limited. Tóibín makes a single incision, but it’s extraordinarily well-placed and strikes against countless nerve-ends. The novel is a compassionate reminder that a city must be made of people before it can be made of myths.
In tracking the experience, at the remove of half a century, of a girl as unsophisticated and simple as Eilis — a girl who permits herself no extremes of temperament, who accords herself no right to self-assertion — Toibin exercises sustained subtlety and touching respect. . .

In “Brooklyn,” Colm Toibin quietly, modestly shows how place can assert itself, enfolding the visitor, staking its claim.

» Add other authors (76 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
TÓIBÍN, Colmprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
ANDRÉS LLEÓ, AnaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
BANDINI, DitteTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
BANDINI, GiovanniTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
BOK, AnnekeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
FIGUEIREDO, RubensTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
NIELSEN, JørgenTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
SIVILL, Kaijamarisecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
VEGA, VincenzoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Eilis Lacey, sitting at the window of the upstairs living room in the house on Friary Street, noticed her sister walking briskly from work.
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Wikipedia in English (2)

In Ireland in the early 1950s, Eilis Lacey is one of many who cannot find work at home. Thus when a job is offered in America, it is clear to everyone that she must go. Leaving behind her family and country, Eilis heads for unfamiliar Brooklyn, and to a crowded boarding house where the landlady's intense scrutiny and the small jealousies of her fellow residents only deepen her isolation. Slowly, the pain of parting is buried beneath the rhythms of her new life -- and finally, she begins to realize that she has found a sort of happiness. As she falls in love, news comes from home that forces her back to Enniscorthy -- not to the constrictions of her old life, but to new possibilities which conflict deeply with the life she has left behind in Brooklyn.

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Book description
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.
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