April Tea and a Book: Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín

Apr 23, 2024

April calls for another unread book that has languished too long on my shelves, and thus I am sharing the lovely and unforgettable Brooklyn, by Irish author Colm Tóibín. I saw the film years ago and enjoyed it — Saoirse Ronan is wonderful as Eilis — but the book offers so much more.

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Eilis Lacey has come of age in small-town Ireland in the years following World War Two. Though skilled at bookkeeping, she cannot find a job in the miserable Irish economy. When an Irish priest from Brooklyn offers to sponsor Eilis in America–to live and work in a Brooklyn neighborhood “just like Ireland”–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, a blond Italian from a big family, slowly wins her over with patient charm. But just as Eilis begins to fall in love with Tony, devastating news from Ireland threatens the promise of her future.

My thoughts:
Eilis seems somewhat reticent on first acquaintance (perhaps because she has always lived in the shadow of her more glamorous sister), but she possesses a refreshing honesty and can assert her will when the going gets tough. She knows what it means to work hard and is appropriately deferential to her American employers and landlady. Though she misses Ireland and her family, Eilis knows the work will distract her from homesickness. Our heroine is just so wonderfully practical, as well as being clever and hardworking. The only thing that really shakes her is romantic attention from a Brooklyn boy!

An interesting passage:
I love this scene in which Eilis gets a chance to take a bookkeeping class in the evening but doesn’t quite understand how she’s earned the opportunity. She interrogates her sponsor, Father Flood:

“Did Rose (Eilis’ sister) ask you do this? Is that why you’re doing it?”
“I’m doing it for the Lord,” he said.
Tell me really why you are doing it.”
He looked at her carefully and left silence for a moment. She returned his gaze calmly, making clear she wanted a reply.
“I was amazed that someone like you would not have a good job in Ireland. When your sister mentioned that you had no work in Ireland, then I said I would help you to come here. That’s all. And we need Irish girls in Brooklyn.”
“Would any Irish girl do?” Eilis asked.
“Don’t be sour. You asked me why I was doing it.”

The film was directed by John Crowley with a screenplay by Nick Hornby. I enjoyed this article about it.

About the Author:
Colm Tóibín FRSL is an Irish novelist, short story writer, essayist, journalist, critic, playwright and poet. His first novel, The South, was published in 1990. The Blackwater Lightship was shortlisted for the Booker Prize.

And Now for Tea:
I’m so pleased to feature a Tea from Brooklyn for this blog post! Bellocq offers “Luxury, single estate teas from the finest gardens and signature, organic tea blends made in Brooklyn. Elevating everyday rituals is at the heart of what we do.” I’ve been to this shop a couple of times and they really know what they’re doing. My favorite tea is No. 01, Bellocq Breakfast — “An invigorating, full-bodied blend of organic Indian, Chinese, and Ceylon single-estate black teas. A winsome take on the classic breakfast blend – and one of our most requested.” Next time you’re in Brooklyn, make it a priority to visit this shop.

Stay tuned for May’s offering from the Persephone Catalog!

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