Brooklyn

Brooklyn

by Colm Tóibín
Brooklyn

Brooklyn

by Colm Tóibín

Paperback(Media Tie-In)

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Listen to Colm Toibin and Tom Crewe in conversation on Poured Over Double Shot: The B&N Podcast.


Overview

Notes From Your Bookseller

Emotionally resonant and ripe with themes of the immigrant experience and what it means to be American, Brooklyn is a light read that’s nonetheless impactful in its lasting message.

Colm Tóibín’s New York Times bestselling novel—also an acclaimed film starring Saoirse Ronan and Jim Broadbent nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Picture—is “a moving, deeply satisfying read” (Entertainment Weekly) about a young Irish immigrant in Brooklyn in the early 1950s.

“One of the most unforgettable characters in contemporary literature” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette), Eilis Lacey has come of age in small-town Ireland in the hard years following World War Two. When an Irish priest from Brooklyn offers to sponsor Eilis in America, 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, who loves the Dodgers and his big Italian family, slowly wins her over with patient charm. But just as Eilis begins to fall in love, devastating news from Ireland threatens the promise of her future.

Author “Colm Tóibín...is his generation’s most gifted writer of love’s complicated, contradictory power” (Los Angeles Times). “Written with mesmerizing power and skill” (The Boston Globe), Brooklyn is a “triumph...One of those magically quiet novels that sneak up on readers and capture their imaginations” (USA TODAY).

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781501106477
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: 09/08/2015
Series: Eilis Lacey Series
Edition description: Media Tie-In
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 1,968
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Colm Tóibín is the author of eleven novels, including Long Island; The Magician, winner of the Rathbones Folio Prize; The Master, winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; Brooklyn, winner of the Costa Book Award; The Testament of Mary; and Nora Webster; as well as two story collections and several books of criticism. He is the Irene and Sidney B. Silverman Professor of the Humanities at Columbia University and has been named as the Laureate for Irish Fiction for 2022–2024 by the Arts Council of Ireland. Three times shortlisted for the Booker Prize, Tóibín lives in Dublin and New York.

Read an Excerpt

Eilis Lacey, sitting at the window of the upstairs living room in the house on Friary Street, noticed her sister walking briskly from work. She watched Rose crossing the street from sunlight into shade, carrying the new leather handbag that she had bought in Clerys in Dublin in the sale. Rose was wearing a cream-coloured cardigan over her shoulders. Her golf clubs were in the hall; in a few minutes, Eilis knew, someone would call for her and her sister would not return until the summer evening had faded.

Eilis’s bookkeeping classes were almost ended now; she had a manual on her lap about systems of accounting, and on the table behind her was a ledger where she had entered, as her homework, on the debit and credit sides, the daily business of a company whose details she had taken down in notes in the Vocational School the week before.

As soon as she heard the front door open, Eilis went downstairs. Rose, in the hall, was holding her pocket mirror in front of her face. She was studying herself closely as she applied lipstick and eye make-up before glancing at her overall appearance in the large hall mirror, settling her hair. Eilis looked on silently as her sister moistened her lips and then checked herself one more time in the pocket mirror before putting it away.

Their mother came from the kitchen to the hall.

“You look lovely, Rose,” she said. “You’ll be the belle of the golf club.”

“I’m starving,” Rose said, “but I’ve no time to eat.”

“I’ll make a special tea for you later,” her mother said. “Eilis and myself are going to have our teanow.”

Rose reached into her handbag and took out her purse. She placed a one-shilling piece on the hallstand. “That’s in case you want to go to the pictures,” she said to Eilis.

“And what about me?” her mother asked.

“She’ll tell you the story when she gets home,” Rose replied.

“That’s a nice thing to say!” her mother said.

All three laughed as they heard a car stop outside the door and beep its horn. Rose picked up her golf clubs and was gone.

Later, as her mother washed the dishes and Eilis dried them, another knock came to the door. When Eilis answered it, she found a girl whom she recognized from Kelly’s grocery shop beside the cathedral.

“Miss Kelly sent me with a message for you,” the girl said. “She wants to see you.”

“Does she?” Eilis asked. “And did she say what it was about?”

“No. You’re just to call up there tonight.”

“But why does she want to see me?”

“God, I don’t know, miss. I didn’t ask her. Do you want me to go back and ask her?”

“No, it’s all right. But are you sure the message is for me?”

“I am, miss. She says you are to call in on her.”

Since she had decided in any case to go to the pictures some other evening, and being tired of her ledger, Eilis changed her dress and put on a cardigan and left the house. She walked along Friary Street and Rafter Street into the Market Square and then up the hill to the cathedral. Miss Kelly’s shop was closed, so Eilis knocked on the side door, which led to the upstairs part where she knew Miss Kelly lived. The door was answered by the young girl who had come to the house earlier, who told her to wait in the hall.

Eilis could hear voices and movement on the floor above and then the young girl came down and said that Miss Kelly would be with her before long.

She knew Miss Kelly by sight, but her mother did not deal in her shop as it was too expensive. Also, she believed that her mother did not like Miss Kelly, although she could think of no reason for this. It was said that Miss Kelly sold the best ham in the town and the best creamery butter and the freshest of everything including cream, but Eilis did not think she had ever been in the shop, merely glanced into the interior as she passed and noticed Miss Kelly at the counter.

Miss Kelly slowly came down the stairs into the hallway and turned on a light.

“Now,” she said, and repeated it as though it were a greeting. She did not smile.

Eilis was about to explain that she had been sent for, and to ask politely if this was the right time to come, but Miss Kelly’s way of looking her up and down made her decide to say nothing. Because of Miss Kelly’s manner, Eilis wondered if she had been offended by someone in the town and had mistaken her for that person.

“Here you are, then,” Miss Kelly said.

Eilis noticed a number of black umbrellas resting against the hallstand.

“I hear you have no job at all but a great head for figures.”

“Is that right?”

“Oh, the whole town, anyone who is anyone, comes into the shop and I hear everything.”

Eilis wondered if this was a reference to her own mother’s consistent dealing in another grocery shop, but she was not sure. Miss Kelly’s thick glasses made the expression on her face difficult to read.

“And we are worked off our feet every Sunday here. Sure, there’s nothing else open. And we get all sorts, good, bad and indifferent. And, as a rule, I open after seven mass, and between the end of nine o’clock mass until eleven mass is well over, there isn’t room to move in this shop. I have Mary here to help, but she’s slow enough at the best of times, so I was on the lookout for someone sharp, someone who would know people and give the right change. But only on Sundays, mind. The rest of the week we can manage ourselves. And you were recommended. I made inquiries about you and it would be seven and six a week, it might help your mother a bit.”

Miss Kelly spoke, Eilis thought, as though she were describing a slight done to her, closing her mouth tightly between each phrase.

“So that’s all I have to say now. You can start on Sunday, but come in tomorrow and learn off all the prices and we’ll show you how to use the scales and the slicer. You’ll have to tie your hair back and get a good shop coat in Dan Bolger’s or Burke O’Leary’s.”

Eilis was already saving this conversation for her mother and Rose; she wished she could think of something smart to say to Miss Kelly without being openly rude. Instead, she remained silent.

“Well?” Miss Kelly asked.

Eilis realized that she could not turn down the offer. It would be better than nothing and, at the moment, she had nothing.

“Oh, yes, Miss Kelly,” she said. “I’ll start whenever you like.”

“And on Sunday you can go to seven o’clock mass. That’s what we do, and we open when it’s over.”

“That’s lovely,” Eilis said.

“So, come in tomorrow, then. And if I’m busy I’ll send you home, or you can fill bags of sugar while you wait, but if I’m not busy, I’ll show you all the ropes.”

“Thank you, Miss Kelly,” Eilis said.

“Your mother’ll be pleased that you have something. And your sister,” Miss Kelly said. “I hear she’s great at the golf. So go home now like a good girl. You can let yourself out.”

Miss Kelly turned and began to walk slowly up the stairs. Eilis knew as she made her way home that her mother would indeed be happy that she had found some way of making money of her own, but that Rose would think working behind the counter of a grocery shop was not good enough for her. She wondered if Rose would say this to her directly.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.



Introduction

“One of the most unforgettable characters in contemporary literature,” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette), Eilis Lacey has come of age in Enniscorthy, Ireland, in the hard years following World War Two. When an Irish priest from Brooklyn offers to sponsor Eilis in America, 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, who loves the Dodgers and his big Italian family, slowly wins her over with patient charm. But just as Eilis begins to establish her life in Brooklyn, devastating news from Ireland brings her back to Enniscorthy. Eilis is forced to choose between America and Ireland—and two men who embody these places—in the midst of the sweeping economic and social changes of the 1950s.




Questions for Discussion

1. Before she goes to America, Eilis believes that, “While people from the town who lived in England missed Enniscorthy, no one who went to America missed home. Instead, they were happy there and proud” (pg 26). Why do you think the Irish had such a rosy view of America? How are Eilis’s expectations met upon her arrival?

2. As Eilis begins night classes in accounting, she notes the divisions between Italian and Jewish students, and the lack of English or other Irish students. At work, she must confront racial integration when Bartocci’s opens its doors for the first time to black customers. How does Eilis react to the divisions among Europeans immigrants from different countries, as well as those between white and black Americans? How are the traditional ethnic lines of Brooklyn beginning to break down in the 1950s?

3. When Eilis and Tony first meet, she seems more interested in him as an escape from her troublesome housemates than as a genuine romantic interest. Tony, however, is clear about his love for Eilis from the start. Why do you think Eilis is hesitant in her feelings? Is a relationship with such uneven attachment doomed from the start, or do you believe that one person can “learn” to love another over time?


4. Some characters in the novel are referred to as Miss or Mrs., while others are identified by their first name. Does this reflect their relationship with Eilis? Why would Colm Toibin make this stylistic choice? How would your perception of the characters in Brooklyn be different if Tobin had written the novel from the “first-person” perspective of Eilis?


5. Imagine Eilis in today’s world. Do you see her primarily as a career-motivated woman, or as a wife and mother? How does Toibin present the conflict between job and family in the 1950s? How is it different today?


6. When the clerk of the law bookstore in Manhattan engages her in conversation, Eilis displays an ignorance of the Holocaust that would startle us today. How do you explain her confusion? What does it tell us about the Ireland—and New York—of the 1950s?


7. Something happens to Rose that, in retrospect, makes you reexamine the reasons she might have urged Eilis to move to America. Discuss this.

10. Eilis decides to keep her marriage to Tony a secret from her mother and friends in Enniscorthy because she believes they won’t understand. Do you believe that this is Eilis’s true reason, or might her silence indicate other motives?


11. Does Eilis’s notion of her duty to family evolve from the beginning of the novel—when she leaves Enniscorthy—to the end, when she returns to Tony in America?


12. If Eilis had been able to choose freely, between Brooklyn and Tony, and Enniscorthy and Jim, what do you think she would have chosen? Or is Eilis really a young woman who does not choose, who allows others to determine her fate?


13. Tóibín ends Brooklyn before Eilis even boards the ship back to America, leaving her future unwritten. Why do you think Toibin chose to end the book there? What do you imagine Eilis’s future holds?




Tips to Enhance Your Book Group

1. I Love Lucy! was the hit show of the 1950s. However, it depicts a very different life for Ricky and Lucy, also living in New York City, than Eilis experiences. Watching some episodes of I Love Lucy! and discuss the differences between this Hollywood version of life in the ‘50s and Tóibín’s depiction in Brooklyn.

2. Irish traditions and food appear throughout Brooklyn, particularly in the passage about the dances Eilis attends both in the U.S. and Ireland. Listen to ceili music at your meeting, and ask members to bring their favorite Irish (or Irish-inspired) dish!


3. Betty Smith’s novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is perhaps one of the most well-known depictions of New York City in the 1940s. Pair the two novels (perhaps reading them in tandem, or for consecutive meetings) and discuss the changes in Brooklyn from Smith’s 1940s to Tóibín’s 1950s.

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