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Brooklyn: A Novel | [Colm Tóibín]

Brooklyn: A Novel

It is Enniscorthy in the southeast of Ireland in the early 1950s. Eilis Lacey is one among many of her generation who cannot find work at home. Thus when a job is offered in America, it is clear to everyone that she must go. Eilis heads for unfamiliar Brooklyn to a crowded boarding house. Slowly, the pain of parting is buried beneath the rhythms of her new life - until she begins to realize that she has found a sort of happiness.
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Audible Editor Reviews

Colm Toibin's Brooklyn is a portrait of immigration with all the grand scheming stripped away. Eilis Lacey liked things just fine at home in Ireland, and what she leaves behind is not the slow horror of the potato famine but the depressed economy of the 1950s. Her adventure is produced by a banal lack of choices and executed with the circumspection of a person fully aware of how dangerous and lonely the world is away from her mother's kitchen table.

The novel's style reflects this restraint. Toibin never writes two sentences when one will do, and the narration, by Kirsten Potter, is beautifully expressive without relying on actorly tics. When she performs Eilis' dialogue, she deftly turns the rising inflection and ironic pacing of a County Wexford accent into an expression of Eilis' uncertainty and reserve. Eilis' American co-workers and boyfriend speak in flat, friendly, percussive tones. You can hear their sureness of place and purpose, and feel Eilis' relief when she's surrounded again with voices like her own.

Eilis leaves her family behind in Enniscorthy on the urging of her glamorous older sister and a priest that the family has enlisted to smooth the way for her. She lands in Brooklyn with a job in a clothing store already arranged for her and takes a room in a boarding house where the manners and morals of all the single women are under constant scrutiny. She works in the shop, attends night classes at Brooklyn College, eats dinner with the other lodgers, and on Fridays attends the dance at the parish hall. Each of these elements of her new life is significant because it stands over a void of dislocation. The simplicity of the prose and the purity of the narrative's focus magnify these small accomplishments — the moments of emotional equilibrium, the certificate in bookkeeping that will move her from the shop floor to the offices upstairs — into the towering emotional achievements that they are. In Brooklyn we watch the ordinary, terrifying work of dismantling a life and building it up again from nothing. —Rosalie Knecht

Publisher's Summary

It is Enniscorthy in the southeast of Ireland in the early 1950s. Eilis Lacey is one among many of her generation who cannot find work at home. Thus when a job is offered in America, it is clear to everyone that she must go. Eilis heads for unfamiliar Brooklyn to a crowded boarding house. Slowly, the pain of parting is buried beneath the rhythms of her new life - until she begins to realize that she has found a sort of happiness. As she falls in love, news comes from home that forces her back to Ireland, where she finds new possibilities that conflict deeply with the life she has left behind in Brooklyn.

©2009 Colm Tóibín; (P)2009 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

What the Critics Say

"Tóibín's genius is that he makes it impossible for us to walk away." (The New Yorker)
"Slowly, equably, and without malice, Eilis exacts a bittersweet revenge for the expatriation she never intended—or, rather, one unfolds for her unsought, organically. … [Tóibín] shows no condescension for Eilis’s passivity but records her cautious adventures matter-of-factly, as if she were writing them herself in her journal." (New York Times Book Review)
"Eilis is almost a parody of 1950s femininity. … The ending of Brooklyn is a masterpiece of quiet reflection, bringing up deep emotions submerged under the placid exterior and giving the novel an ache that will linger for days." (Christian Science Monitor)
"Tóibín’s tributes to old New York, both in landscape and disposition, beautifully reflect on a time past, but it’s Eilis’ universal struggles with matters of the heart that make this novel such a moving, deeply satisfying read." (Entertainment Weekly)

"[Kirsten Potter] produces the American characters without flaw and delivers the general narrative at a nice, easy pace." (Washington Post Book World)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.6 (342 )
5 star
 (74)
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 (120)
3 star
 (102)
2 star
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1 star
 (13)
Overall
3.7 (161 )
5 star
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3 star
 (41)
2 star
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1 star
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Story
4.1 (151 )
5 star
 (66)
4 star
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3 star
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2 star
 (6)
1 star
 (2)
Performance
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  •  
    Harriette 01-10-12
    Harriette 01-10-12
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    34
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    Story
    "Low key but lovely Irish immigrant story"
    What does Kirsten Potter bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    My son recommended I get this as an audio book in order to enjoy the Irish accents. We had each spent time in Ireland.


    Any additional comments?

    Not a page turner, but you care about the interior dialogue of a character who makes life changing decisions--not necessarily because she wants to, but simply because she must. .

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Whitney Los Angeles, CA 06-16-09
    Whitney Los Angeles, CA 06-16-09 Member Since 2015
    HELPFUL VOTES
    13
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    125
    7
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    FOLLOWING
    1
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    "Good but just depressing ending"

    The book was well written and well read, just the last part of the book made me angry at the character and ended rather depressingly.

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kathy Bedford, TX, United States 06-08-09
    Kathy Bedford, TX, United States 06-08-09 Member Since 2007
    HELPFUL VOTES
    799
    ratings
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    4851
    132
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    234
    117
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    Story
    "Great Story"

    Toibin put an interesting twist on the Irish immigration story and did it very well. Excellent narration as well.
    Can't wait to listen to more of his books.

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Thomas Dearborn, MI, USA 06-30-09
    Thomas Dearborn, MI, USA 06-30-09 Member Since 2008
    HELPFUL VOTES
    2
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    "Disconnect between Brooklyn and Ireland"

    I enjoyed the Irish voices and the experience of coming to America, as seen through a Foreigner's eyes. I was disappointed not so much that the main character had little character. The author was unconvincing in setting the reader up to understand eillis' behavior toward her marriage and American Husband. The ending also left me wondering.

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    P. Carson Connecticut 07-29-09
    P. Carson Connecticut 07-29-09 Member Since 2015

    Audiobook Raven

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Pale theme in the hands of a fine writer"

    I admire Colm Toibin's novel, The Master, and some of the short stories in Mothers and Sons but I find the theme of Brooklyn too tame or domestic. It took me quite awhile to realize that the time frame is after World War II, not after World War I. The author's insight with respect to the workings of Irish families and the portrait of Brooklyn in the early 1950s is worth the price of the book but the characters seem too constrained.

    3 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jane E. Klaus PA 04-23-15
    Jane E. Klaus PA 04-23-15 Member Since 2007

    janeway6

    HELPFUL VOTES
    3
    ratings
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    33
    3
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    Story
    "Poignant and so well written"

    I was held to this story from beginning to end. I didn't want to to end at all. I am now going to read every book by this author.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Parrot Girl 04-16-15
    Parrot Girl 04-16-15 Member Since 2014
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    4
    4
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Good read"

    I felt left hanging, wanted a better ending but other than that, I liked it a lot. Next book when?

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    RueRue 03-22-15
    RueRue 03-22-15

    RueRue

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    231
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    Story
    "Interesting and Irritating"

    A hard book to review. It started slow, and I almost gave up. There seemed to be no story, just a series of vignettes in the life of Eillis. Once she leaves Ireland and sails to Brooklyn, the narrative became more engaging, as she struggles to adjust to life in America. Then, circumstances bring her back to Ireland, and this is where I got really irritated. Eillis seemed willing to let her mother and the small community where she grew up take over her life. After all she achieved in her new American life, she turned into a total doormat. Once again, circumstances pushed her to make a decision, otherwise, it seemed to me that she would have drifted along, being untruthful with everyone. Others may not interpret the character as I have. Good narration, well-written prose, but not an emotionally satisfying story.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Carolyn Billheimer Portola Valley, CA United States 03-14-15
    Carolyn Billheimer Portola Valley, CA United States 03-14-15 Member Since 2006
    ratings
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    19
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    Story
    "Irish family life, beautifully written."

    Irish family life through the life of a second daughter of marriageable age. Lovely Eilis moves to Brooklyn for better work, finds the American lifestyle to be confusing, overwhelming and very attractive. Then something happens that turns her world...

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    carole ORLAND PARK, IL, United States 02-04-15
    carole ORLAND PARK, IL, United States 02-04-15 Member Since 2013
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    "So what's new?"

    An age-old plot with nothing new or exciting added. The writing style was so proper and almost stiff. The ending seemed abrupt too. Only 2 stars.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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