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Summary and book reviews of Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

Brooklyn

A Novel

by Colm Toibin

Brooklyn
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    May 2009, 272 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2010, 272 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Sarah Sacha Dollacker

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About this Book

Book Summary

Hauntingly beautiful and heartbreaking, Colm Tóibín's sixth novel, 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 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.

By far Tóibín's most instantly engaging and emotionally resonant novel, Brooklyn will make readers fall in love with his gorgeous writing and spellbinding characters.

Chapter 1

Eilis went to midnight mass with Mrs. Kehoe and Miss Keegan, discovering on the way home that Mrs. Kehoe was among the parishioners who were roasting a turkey and potatoes and boiling a ham for Father Flood, who had arranged for it all to be collected at twelve.

"It's like the war," Mrs. Kehoe said. "Feeding the army. Has to be done like clockwork. I'll carve what our own small needs will be from the turkey, the biggest one I could get, it'll be six hours in the oven, before I send it off. And we'll eat, just the four of us, myself, Miss McAdam, Miss Heffernan and Miss Keegan here, as soon as the turkey is off our hands. And if there's anything left over, we'll save it for you, Eilis."

By nine o'clock Eilis was in the parish hall peeling vegetables in the big kitchen at the back. There were women working beside her whom she had never met before, all of them older than she, some with faint American accents but all of Irish origin. Most of them were just here for this ...

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  • award image

    Costa Book Awards
    2009

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

With deft prose and subtle characterization, Tóibín contemplates whether anyone can ever really return home.   (Reviewed by Sarah Sacha Dollacker).

Full Review Members Only (388 words).

Media Reviews

New York Times - Liesl Schillinger

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

Los Angeles Times - Floyd Skloot

Among that impressive group now in their 50s, Tóibín, with his growing list of international awards, has emerged as the novelists' novelist, a writer whose stylish, elegantly crafted stories of calm surfaces and agitated depths carry genuine urgency.

Publishers Weekly

The scene is eerie, falsely naïve. We may accept what a village girl from Ireland,which remained neutral during the war, may not have known, but Tóibín's delivery of the racial and ethnic discoveries of a clueless young woman are disconcerting.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. A fine and touching novel, persuasive proof of Tóibín's ever-increasing skills and range.

Library Journal

Starred Review. Tóibín conveys Eilis's transformative struggles with an aching lyricism reminiscent of the mature Henry James and ultimately confers upon his readers a sort of grace that illuminates the opportunities for tenderness in our lives. Both more accessible and more sublime than his previous works, this is highly recommended.

Booklist

Starred Review. A compelling characterization of a woman caught between two worlds... A fine and touching novel, persuasive proof of Tóibín's ever-increasing skills and range.

The Independent - James Walton

Brooklyn goes about its business with such quiet readability that it takes a while to realize how powerfully subversive all of this is. The current preferred myth is that we are, or at least should be, or should want to be, in control of our own lives. By capturing the unspectacular arbitrariness of Eilis's experiences so convincingly, Tóibín subjects this myth to a thorough and calmly intelligent kicking.

The Guardian - Christopher Tayler

One of the striking things about Colm Tóibín, perhaps the most admired Irish writer to emerge since John Banville, is the feeling in his work of a powerful sense of humour being strategically suppressed.

The Telegraph - Robert Hanks

Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn is a controlled, understated novel, devoid of outright passion or contrivance, but alive with authentic detail, moved along by the ripples of affection and doubt that shape any life: a novel that offers the reader serious pleasure.

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Beyond the Book

Like Eilis, Colm Tóibín was born in Enniscorthy, County Wexford, Ireland. Born in 1955, he was the second youngest of five children. He graduated from University College Dublin in 1975 and promptly moved to Barcelona for three years. His experiences in Spain informed his first novel The South (1990). Tóibín returned to Ireland to pursue a masters but never matriculated. He left academia for a career in journalism, and was editor of the prominent Irish news magazine Macgill from 1982 to 1985. He has taught literature and creative writing at Princeton and Stanford Universities, among others, and currently lives in Dublin.

Along with writing a number of critically-acclaimed novels, Tóibín ...

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