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11.05.2015

Brooklyn - the book (spoiler!)

This book is very good.  Very very good.  It's interesting that Colm Toibin, a gay man, has written such a sweet hetrosexual love story from a woman's perspective.

I love it that a man has written from a woman's perspective, he does it quite well which reminds me a little of Tolstoy--remember from the short story "Family Happiness".

This review from USA Today; "one of those magically quiet novels that sneak up on readers" very much corroborates my own experience.

Brooklyn is a story of Eilis, who around 1949 leaves Ireland at about the age of 19 to live in Brooklyn, then returns to Ireland due to a death in the family.  She then struggles with whether or not she should continue with her new life in Brooklyn or remain in her much more familiar homeland.


Toibin does a good job of explaining her emotions and experiences; her initial homesickness after arriving in Brooklyn and how returning to Brooklyn felt like manual labor in comparison to staying in Ireland.

Eilis is a likable but very wishy-washy character, a person who has things happen to her rather than going out and getting them.  Her move to America was basically the decision of her sister and her mother.  Just before she returns to Ireland, her boyfriend convinces her to marry him.  She's not really sure she wants marry him, or about the relationship at all, yet she marries him anyway.

And her move back to the US (I spent the entire book making bets to myself as to whether or not she'd move back; and kind of thought that she would, since Toibin presented the Italian boyfriend in such a positive light) - it wasn't so much that she chose to move back, but that it was her only feasible option (given that marriage is her ultimate objective, anyway).  Her courtship with Jim would end in ruin since he wouldn't want to marry a divorcee, and word would eventually spread through the town that she was married to an American.

However, I was happy that she decided to do what she did; it seemed the most honest, and the least wishy washy (at least she didn't just stay with whichever guy was currently at her side).

Given this rather drab character I'm surprised now to say that I like the book, but that's probably due to the writing.  

Toibin presents the Church in a positive light; for example the priest who Eilis confessed the sin of fornication is very merciful and understanding to her.  He even offers to be of assistance in the event that the fornication resulted in pregnancy.  This surprises me a little since I've seen the Irish repeatedly present the church so negatively--for example in the book Angela's Ashes, or the movie Magdeline Sisters.

The book has one small annoying PC passage in which a librarian rants about how Eilis' bookkeeping teacher in Brooklyn was a Jew and wasn't it horrible that Hitler tried to kill all of those wonderful intelligent Jews for no good reason at all.

Um, k.  Let's refer to, say, Norman Finklestins excellent book, "The Holocause Industry" to make the point that the Jews in America were not inordinately concerned with the Holocaust in the 1940s/50s, nor at all was the general public.  A comment like this just would not have happened, and reflects instead our obsession with the Holocaust, as well as a misunderstanding of why the Jews were ever interned in the first place.  Consider, additionally, Bernard Malamud's writing, published just after WWII.  Despite an obsession with Judaism, he never ever even mentions the Holocaust in The Assistant, nor any of his short stories.

This bullshit consumed really less than a page.  I didn't feel at all that Brooklyn in its entirely presented some sort of an agenda.  It sounded mostly like Toibin was just telling a story.

As to the plot in general, I found it a bit ridiculous that Eilis ended up having two eligible men in hot pursuit (men who 'mean business' and are not just toying with her then ultimately pulling a disappearing act), and then we're actually suppossed to feel sorry for her that she has to choose between the two.  Additionally, as I reflect on it, it's perhaps a bit pathetic that her decision at the end about what direction to take her life is determined by men and relationships; she must stay by Tony's side since Jim would never marry her.

Again, I point to the writing to redeem it from being the silly story of a wishy washy woman with a sickeningly charmed life.

The writing feels very calm, it flows.

Look forward to seeing the movie.  Which comes out in just a few days, in fact.

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