Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Published March 2010 Simon & Schuster Adult
Source: bought this one to read with the Omaha Bookworms
In Enniscorthy, Ireland in post World War II, jobs are tough to come by so when Eilis Lacey is offered a part-time job at a local shop she can't turn down the opportunity despite the fact that neither her mother nor her sister approve of the owner. Not long afterward, Eilis' beloved sister, Rose, tells Eilis and her mother that she has invited a Father Flood to tea. Father Flood is originally from Enniscorthy but is currently living in the U.S. His purpose in coming to tea is to invite Eilis to come to Brooklyn; he will sponsor her and has already lined up a job and housing. As she sits there listening to the good father, Eilis realizes that both her mother and sister are being unusually quiet and it comes to her that it's really already been decided that she will be going to America.
After a horrible journey across rough seas, Eilis arrives in America to begin her new life and soon settles into a routine that is, well, routine and a little boring. Despite living in Brooklyn in a very exciting time, Eilis lives a very insular life. She goes to work, she goes to night school, she spends what little free time she has almost exclusively at the boarding house. And in all of those places, Eilis makes almost no effort to befriend anyone. She can't seem to find the place where she fits in and the things that happen around her seem to affect her very little. Perhaps the only thing that she is at all aware of is all of the discrimination rampant in the ethnically diverse borough.
Finally Eilis meets a nice Italian boy and discovers first love and finally becomes more a part of America. Then a terrible tragedy takes her back to Ireland. Once there, Eilis begins to feel the draw of a real home, unsure whether she will ever return to America.
I read this book with the Omaha Bookworms for our May selection after it was recommended by one of our members (Mari of Bookworm With A View). Mari loved it, in no small part because it evoked memories of stories she had heard from her grandparents who were Irish immigrants who settled in Brooklyn at about the same time. Only half of the ladies had actually finished the book so it was hard to talk too much about the book but even those who had only gotten part way through the book were really enjoying it.
Time moves at quite a pace in Brooklyn; Toibin bypasses long periods of time between episode and vignettes. Toibin compares his writing style to Ernest Hemingway with good cause; he knows how to tell a story with just what is necessary to tell the story perfectly. Nothing showy or lush about Brooklyn. All of the emotion is just under the surface and yet it is palpable and the characters are believable and realistic. This book was twice short-listed for the Mann Booker Prize and now I know why.