When Brooklyn was gentle

Brooklyn Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A sweet, gentle story of an Irish girl who migrates in the 1950s from her small town to bustling and multi-ethnic Brooklyn, learns to cope, finds a nice Italian-American guy, returns to Ireland for a wake and a visit and is briefly torn between slipping back into the familiar comforts of the old place and returning to her new life back in Brooklyn. Though written by a man, this is a woman's book, told from Eilis Lacey's point of view and mostly about her relations with other girls and women, who try to advise, guide or — ineffectively — control her; the guys are secondary characters, mostly bumbling and insecure but generally well-intentioned. Toibin has made Eilis' fears, desires and hesitations all sound authentic, and presented her with a real but not very dramatic dilemma: she will either remain in Ireland and reintegrate herself into what she now knows is a very slow, limiting but unthreatening life, or she will go back to Brooklyn for what she foresees as a dull routine as a housekeeper for her Italian-American plumber husband. There is little excitement, hardly a hint of violence or even serious ethnic conflict in this Brooklyn, but still it is an enjoyable read because Eilis is so likable and believable. But was Brooklyn ever really so sweet?

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