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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin, 2009, * * * * *

It is Enniscorthy, in Ireland's County Wexford, in the early 1950s and Eilis Lacey is one among many of her generation who cannot find work at home.  When a job is offered in America it is clear to everyone that she must go.  Leaving 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, however, the pain of parting is buried beneath the rhythms of her new life -- until she begins to realize that she as 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.  In the quiet character of Eilis Lacey, Colm Toibin has created a memorable heroine and in Brooklyn he has written a luminous novel of devastating power.  The portrait Toibin paints of Brooklyn in the early '50s is affectionate but scarcely dewy-eyed.  Eilis encounters discrimnation in variouis forms -- against families, againsts blacks, against Jews, against lower-class Irish -- and finds Manhattan more intimidating than alluring. Toibin's prose is graceful but never showy, and his characters are interesting and believable.  As a study of the quest for home and the difficulty of figuring out where home really is, Brooklyn  has a universality that goes far beyond the specific details of Eilis's struggle.

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