Author: Colm Toibin
Publication Date: 2009
Following the difficult years of World War 2, jobs in Ireland are difficult to come by. Eilis Lacey’s brothers have all left and are working in England. Eilis’ sister Rose has a good job in an office, but having just finished bookkeeping school, Eilis is at loose ends. She finds part-time employment at Kelly’s grocer, and although she has a strong memory and a good mind for numbers and addition, the job gives her little satisfaction or hope for advancement.
Impressed with her sharp mind, Irish priest Father Flood offers to sponsor Eilis in America. His parish in Brooklyn helps immigrants find jobs and places to live. Although Eilis’ mother is fragile, the family decides that it is best for her to follow this opportunity. Eilis arrives in Brooklyn after a rough sea voyage and is given lodging at Mrs. Kehoe’s on Clinton Street. Mrs. Kehoe runs a boarding house for young, single girls and Eilis slowly meets the other lodgers although she struggles with extreme home-sickness. Some of the girls like Miss McAdam and Sheila Heffernan are quiet and aloof, while Patty McGuire and Diana Montini enjoy more social activities.
Eilis is given a job behind the counter at Bartocci’s Department store and is quickly recognized for her quiet, polite demeanor and efficient bookkeeping skills. Father Flood learns of the compliments and helps Eilis enroll in night classes to study to become a certified bookkeeper. Although she is busy with work and classes, she is still able to find some time to go out with Patty and Diana to the Irish parish dance hall. There, she meets Tony, a Dodger fan from a huge Italian family. Their relationship slowly blossoms as Eilis settles into her life in America. When she must return to Ireland for a family emergency, Eilis questions whether she wants to continue her new life and love in America or stay with her family in the comfort of all she has known at home.
I picked up this book because I enjoy stories of Irish immigrants and hearing their adventures as they begin a new life. Eilis’ story is a classic coming-of-age story and what I enjoyed most was its simplicity. There was no catastrophic event that changed the course of her life; her experience was pretty straightforward and predictable. The hardships and grief, along with the happiness and joy, she experienced are things that part of the reality of life; the beauty of her experiences is evident in its classic storytelling. I found myself relating to Eilis and her questions as to who she is and what she wants her life to look like, and I was rooting for her success simply because she was a good person who deserved a chance.
The contrast of her Irish charm and Tony’s Italian charisma were delightful. The author did a beautiful job at presenting each of the different ethnic groups without stereo-typing anyone. I loved reading how the contrasting descriptions actually showed how similar they were.
I recently noticed that his book has been made into a movie which will be released in November of this year. I admit to being very nervous. The story is a beautiful, sweet story of a young girl; I sincerely hope that the filmmakers are true to the tone of the novel and accept its quiet beauty.
Who might like this book:
I read a great deal of mysteries, but this was the perfect book with which to take a break from that. I loved that there was no drama and no dark conflict; it was just a “nice” story. It is a quiet read, perfect for someone looking for something to read that isn’t lighthearted but also won’t rip your heart out. Sometimes novels can have so great an emotional response that it is exhausting to read them; this story was a refreshing change as I found myself smiling rather than laughing, and sighing rather than crying. Great book for book groups, and I think anyone who has had experience being the new person will relate and enjoy Eilis’ story.