Colm Toibin

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Colm Toibin

Young Eilis Lacey dreams of life beyond the confines of her tiny Irish village, but unlike her beautiful sister, Rose, Eilis' gifts are of a more practical nature: she has a head for numbers, and is a loving and dutiful daughter. Yet her ambition cannot be hidden and soon is noted by the parish priest, Father Flood. Via a church contact, he arranges for Eilis to travel to America, where a job opportunity has arisen in New York with a reputable merchant of Italian origin.

Eilis finds lodgings in an eccentric boarding house and ekes out an existence in the cosmopolitan melting pot that is 1950s Brooklyn, impressing her employer, outwitting her landlady, and even falling in love. It seems her dream is truly becoming a reality. But then fate intervenes: a family crisis back home forces Eilis to make a choice between the past and the future, the old world and the new.


Colm Tóibín’s new novel is a meditation on the story of Irish emmigration. It is the 1950s, in Tóibín’s birthplace, Enniscorthy. Times are quietly desperate, jobs are scarce and dignity is struggling to survive. Eilis Lacey is the youngest daughter, home with her sister Rose and her mother: three brothers have gone to England, the father has passed away. Difficult choices of survival have to be made. Nothing but the same old story: sadness, melancholy, bitterness, the quiet acceptance of the inevitability of the leaving. A story of Ireland that, sadly, is still being played.

Eilis Lacey is an intelligent, loving and aware young woman. She is willing to accept, for the benefit of her family, and perhaps herself, the necessity to leave for the promises of that faraway west, America. And so she goes to Brooklyn, with the encouragement and assistance of a Catholic priest, as did generations of her countryfolk before her.

In Brooklyn, Colm Tóibín writes about his home town and his country with a love and awareness of history. His writing and this story, is full of that quiet strength which always touches my heart. The complexity of the seemingly ordinary, written with Toibin’s clear calm prose, recommended with a glass of Jamiesons – and perhaps a tissue – at hand.

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