Coming of Age in “Brooklyn”, by Colm Tóibín - Book Review

Eilis Lacey is from a small Irish town. Everyone knows everyone; there are few jobs. It’s a beautiful place of family and friends with limitations to earn a living after World War II. Eilis lives with her fragile mother and charismatic sister, taking classes and caring for the home. Her three brothers have moved to London where work is abundant. She is in a comfortable, if not ideal, existence.

Award winning author Colm Tóibín created Eilis in Brooklyn. This is the story of a young woman living in the shadow of her confident and beautiful sister, who provides for the family. She is content to remain in her village, working in a small shop. But all that changes when a town priest returns from America. He has relocated to Brooklyn, where there is a growing Irish community with men and women who’ve left home to find a better life; to build businesses and families.

By Colm Toibin

The priest finds a job and boarding house for Eilis in Brooklyn and helps her with the funds to get started, including the long, dreadful ship crossing. Throughout the book, we follow Eilis as she has to create a life homesick and alone, while adjusting to the strange lifestyle and culture of America. She’s growing up and Tóibín elegantly presents her transformation, channeling her sister’s poise into her own. Reading each page, I found myself proud of Eilis as she learned to navigate difficult situations and master conversations.

Tóibín has created a book as restrained as Eilis’s life. It’s told beautifully and subtly. I ached for Eilis as she encounters each new and difficult situation. I felt torn when she became caught between her native home and her new one.  Brooklyn is a lovely book, well worth the read from an accomplished author. It’s been adapted to film, which is coming out this weekend. Read the book, perhaps see the film. It’s worth the time.

Published: 2009
Publisher: Scribner

Vickie’s rating: 4 stars