Filled with the challenges that everyone who moved away from home needs to face for the first time, it’s a truthful depiction of a start of a life as an emigre – and a lesson for everyone who’s willing to see it through an eye of a metaphor. Read on for our Brooklyn book review!

brooklyn book review colm toibin

Eilis Lacey lives with her mother and her sister Rose in County Wexford, Ireland – and despite being sharp and hard-working, she can’t get a better job than just a shop assistant at mean Miss Kelly’s. Hard times take a toll on everyone – so when the opportunity arises to travel to America, she reluctantly agrees. What seemed so scary at the beginning, opens up her possibilities to learn, live life in a different way than she has ever imagined, and possibly get something she has never thought could belong to her.

Plunging into a life of an emigre

Colm Toibin creates the world of a girl who leaves home for the very first time – and it’s not just a place around the corner, where you can jump on the train and see all of your family and friends. Eilis’s struggle in America, her homesickness, is conveyed truthfully and reliably, so it is certainly relatable for anyone who took the risk of moving to a completely different country on their own, moving away from home with no previous experience of that longing feeling. We get to understand her struggles, the willingness to hide away – and the complete transformation once the strange things around her become familiar. The story, although focusing mainly on the Irish girl’s adventures in Brooklyn, is embellished by many interesting characters – such as father Flood, Mrs. Kehoe, or Eilis’s housemates, each with the vivid personality on their own.

The life of an immigrant is depicted closely enough: from the first moments, when Eilis tries to get used to all the things that appear new to her, to the moment when she is so upset she just can’t focus on her work on the shop floor, to first moments when she starts treating her life as nothing out of the ordinary – and exploring her possibilities. It also tackles the moment of returning back home: being talked about, feeling of change, the realisation of where you belong.

More than meets the eye: there’s Brooklyn for everybody

The book gives you a hint: if you’re new to the country, there’s a name for what you feel, it’s nothing to be exaggerated or scared of. With its optimistic outlook that depicts the helpful people being there for the main character when she needs them, it’s certainly a very positive and uplifting emigration story.  Thanks to believable characters, a variety of them, and not a hint of anything outrageously bad happening to the heroine (the author certainly didn’t decide to kill his darlings), the story is scarcely usual – but with a touch of something that anybody who’s ever migrated can truly understand. It can also become a beautiful metaphor for “not everything comes easy” – nothing does, everything will take time and the right mindset.

The language is reflecting the characters reasonably enough – but there was slightly less space for its creative use. We don’t notice the switch of places in the prose itself, but the wondrous descriptions help us follow the transition, and understand what Miss Lacey feels.

Brooklyn: a book or a movie?

Another question – a book or a movie? Here, it’s difficult to decide. The film plot is almost complete, hardly ever changed, resembling the original closely – but it’s the pace and the impact of how the events are spread throughout that make the biggest difference. In the film, Eilis’s feelings of missing home are strongly present throughout the first half of the story. It used also the interesting framing composition for the plot – leading from Georgina, an English woman who the lead character meets on the transatlantic cruise, giving the timid girl approaching America a piece of advice, to Eilis doing the same later on. However, her relationships with those who waited for the protagonist back home are explored closely in the book – even if it lacks that spectacular comeback towards the end, we feel that Eilis’s place is now across the ocean.

If you’re about to make that important decision of moving away, the book will highlight your boldness of deciding to do so – and it will teach you that everything takes time. If you’ve never tried, then the story will make you understand better – and possibly carry an underlining message of stubbornness and braveness that only you can dictate for yourself.

Kasia Kwasniewska

Editor in Chief

Loves reading, watching films, eyeing (and producing) good design, listening to music and stuffing her face with chocolate whenever the opportunity arises. Cooks from time to time, and drinks far too much coffee to be a normal human being. Liked my work? Buy me a coffee!

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