In Brooklyn, Colm Toibin has written a small gem worthy of comparison to the work of Henry James, the subject of his earlier and celebrated novel The Master. The story begins in a village in post-war Ireland and centers on a diffident young woman Eilis, overshadowed by her rather glamorous, competent & protective older sister, and beginning to find her own tentative way in the work world. An unexpected kindness from a priest moves Eilis from the insular Enniscorthy to the street smart world of working class Brooklyn, circa 1950.
While reminiscent of Betty Smith's classic novel of an earlier era, or even an old Bing Crosby movie, Toibin's perfectly realized domestic details never slip into sentimentality. Any romantic notions you may have harbored about an ocean crossing or colorful new friends in a boarding house setting will be forever dispelled.
With a head for math and a determination to make something of herself, Eilis's life blossoms with night school, advancement at work and her first serious boyfriend. And then tragedy strikes at home and Eilis must decide where her loyalties and obligations truly lie. Part of the genius of this lovely novel is the reader is uncertain until the last page how this will all turn out. -- Margaret Simpson