Brooklyn is a trifecta of a novel. In telling the tale of Eilis Lacey’s journey from Ireland to America, Colm Toibin combines a coming of age saga, a love story and the classic immigrant’s story. The book unfolds slowly but steadily and with patient nuance. We begin with Eilis content with her modest life in post-World War II Ireland. Then her charismatic sister Rose joins forces with a persuasive American priest and fate puts the young woman on a boat bound for America.
Eilis is headed to Brooklyn, where everything is strange: the people, food, fashions, landscape, and pace of daily life. With the priest as a benefactor, the shy young woman lands a job clerking at a prominent department store and enrolls in bookkeeping courses at the local community college. As was proper for a young woman of the day, she rents a room from a respectable landlady whose boarders, all young ladies like Eilis, gossip at the dinner table and eventually cajole her into venturing out to local church dances.
Growing up in her sister’s shadow, Eilis had always felt lacking in looks and potential. But in Brooklyn, she discovers that she is attractive, smart, and vivacious. Eventually the new Eilis finds love with a young Italian boy and starts to envision a bright future in the new land.
Toibin skillfully portrays Eilis’s lonely longing for home and the clash of loyalties that ultimately develop when she is forced to choose between the old beloved country and the newly adopted homeland. At the beginning of the story, Eilis dreads leaving her home and spends months in America quietly yearning for all she has left behind. When family tragedy strikes and she is forced to return to her childhood home, she makes the trip grudgingly only to slowly fall sway to the gentle pull of her deep roots. Once again, fate intervenes and Eilis finds that her future isn’t hers to decide.
The author of eight novels, Colm Toibin has been shortlisted three times for the Man Broker Prize. Brooklyn is his first book to be made into a major motion picture.