My ninth book for my 12 in 12 Challenge is set in the 1950s. It is Brooklyn by Colm Tolbin.
Eilish lives with her sister and mother in a small Irish town. Her father is dead and her brothers have emigrated and are sending money home. This is very much the Irish experience of the 1950s and 60s. Eilish is trying to better herself by taking bookkeeping courses at night class but there is little likelihood of a good job for her. Her mother, sister and a visiting priest make a plan to send Eilish to America where she can get a job, get paid more and send money home and maybe marry within the larger Irish community there. It is accepted that her sister will stay at home, unwed, and care for their mother in her old age. Things aren’t easy for Eilish at first but as she starts to get used to her new life something happens that sends her back to Ireland and causes her to rethink her emigration.
This is not a book with high drama. It is a study of what it must have meant at the time to be a young Irish woman moving away from home. In fact, what Eilish learns is that it isn’t much different from home as the Irish community live and socialise together and everything that happens will be reported back to Ireland and the subject of much gossip in Brooklyn.
Eilish is young and naive and not very proactive. Her life is mapped out for her by other people. This actually makes her quite irritating to read on occasion but is also a reflection of life for women in the 1950s and especially those from small rural communities. By the end of the book you sense that things will be different for Eilish in the future but you don’t know exactly how.
This is a slight but interesting book. The detail makes the reading experience and because this life that Eilish lives is so different from that of most modern day women you are continually taken aback by how little say she seems to have in the important decisions of her life and by the fact that despite all her studying and experience she will give up her job on marriage and then move on to motherhood. Her sister’s experience is even more restricting and that of her mother is actually very sad as she is left in widowhood.
I recommend this book as an insightful and interesting read.