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Brooklyn a n o v e l by C O L M T ÓI B Í N

One Book, One Chicago SP R I N G 2 010 City of Chicago, Richard M. Daley, Mayor presented by the Chicago Public Library, the Chicago Public Library Foundation and


Contents Q & A with Colm Tóibín Author Bio More by Colm Tóibín Programs and Events Discussion Groups Discussion Questions Writing “Brooklyn” The Economics of “Brooklyn” Further Reading

2 4 6 8 14 16 18 22 24

Courtesy of Brooklyn PuBliC liBrary

Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín is the 18th selection

for One Book, One Chicago. For a list of past

selections, go to


Greetings, As Mayor and on behalf of the City of Chicago, I invite you to participate in the Spring 2010 One Book, One Chicago program presented by the Chicago Public Library. This award-winning program encourages all Chicagoans to come together with friends and neighbors to share and discuss a great work of literature. This spring, we have selected the novel Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín. Winner of the prestigious Costa Fiction Award, Brooklyn has been praised as the finest work yet from this highly respected international author. Tóibín, who was born in Enniscorthy, County Wexford, Ireland, shares the story of a young woman in the 1950s who leaves her small Irish town to settle in Brooklyn, New York in order to find work. This selection is sure to please readers from every part of Chicago. It is a story about family, home, identity and the heartbreak that comes with change. Living in a city of immigrants, Chicagoans will find it remarkable to imagine a woman, nearly 60 years ago, braving a new city alone in order to find work, with occasional letters from home as her only comfort. They will be drawn in by Tóibín’s prose and by his heroine Eilis Lacey, who faces very difficult decisions in the course of the novel. You can find a copy of Brooklyn at your neighborhood Chicago Public Library or local bookstore. Please take part in one of the many book discussions planned in libraries, bookstores, community centers and universities throughout April and join us for any number of events celebrating the book this spring, including an appearance by Mr. Tóibín on April 21st at the Harold Washington Library Center. One Book, One Chicago also offers the opportunity for all Chicagoans to discuss the book with readers from Ireland, in a joint online discussion forum presented with the Galway Arts Centre, at Sincerely,

Richard M. Daley Mayor


Questions Answers with Colm Tóibín

Q: You’ve said that this novel came to you from remembering, as a child, overhearing a woman talk about her young daughter who had moved to Brooklyn from Enniscorthy. What about that memory made you want to expand this story? A: I put what I heard into a short story which I wrote in 2000, but five or six years later, I think three things had changed which made it possible (or even made it an imperative) for me to work on the story for longer. The first was that I began to spend time in the United States and I began to feel (albeit from a privileged position) the funny mixtures of loneliness and need and occasional happiness that emigrants feel. Also, outsiders—especially Poles, Nigerians, Chinese—[were coming] to Ireland and I used to watch them and think about them. And finally, I taught a few courses, which included Jane Austen and I began to think about a novel, which used her method of examining a single psychology, using an introspective, sensitive heroine, some comic characters and some romance.

Q: Eilis is for the most part very reticent, and lets others determine the course of her life. Why did a character like that appeal to you when writing about someone moving from a small Irish town to Brooklyn? A: Because there would be a dramatic gap between her inner life and how she behaves which the reader would fill. In other words, she thinks and notices and reflects with considerable force, but then she doesn’t act on her intelligence. I thought this would be interesting for that reason—the gap in her personality.


Suddenly, her time in Brooklyn was making her confront the real world.

Q: Your work often deals with death and mourning, from The Blackwater Lightship to Brooklyn. How is portraying that process of mourning significant in telling these stories? A: Yes, it comes up in one way or another in all the books. It is a strange process because this does not happen deliberately, but at the same time I write with as much control as I can manage. So I think it would be fair to say that the issue is in my DNA. Q: Perhaps you can comment on a couple of scenes in the book that root Eilis in mid-20th century history. The first is her encounter with the bookstore owner who mentions the Holocaust, and Eilis is taken aback, confused. What were your intentions with this scene?

Author Q & A

Courtesy of Brooklyn PuBliC liBrary

A: I read this scene in Wexford where I am from and Eilis is from. A woman in the audience, a woman in her late seventies, said that she worked as a nurse in New York in the 1950s and the scene in my book had happened almost precisely to her when she found that a colleague, a doctor, had been in a German concentration camp. She was shocked, not because she had never heard of the Holocaust, but because she had never expected to meet anyone who had been a victim of it or a survivor of it. It had seemed so far away from rural Ireland. My intentions were to show how remote Eilis’s childhood and young adulthood were from what happened in Europe, and that now, in her twenties, she was meeting someone who had survived. Suddenly, her time in Brooklyn was making her confront the real world.

A: Eilis is as innocent as many Irish people of her generation. Thus she simply doesn’t know about race and racial issues. The scene is brief, it is part of her day, her work; she has no strong views on it one way or the other. She is an outsider. Q: Do you think about how you may have written about this same sort of character today? How would Eilis’s story contrast with the story of a young woman moving from Enniscorthy to America in the 21st century? A: Oh she would be much more clued in, have watched it all on TV and known a lot about America. She might still find it strange, but she would not be innocent.

Q: The other scene is when Eilis is asked to work at the counter at the department store selling stockings to African American women. How important was it to include this in the novel?


B Reading Tóibín is like watching an artist paint one small stroke after another until suddenly the finished picture emerges to shattering effect. Ruth Scurr, The Times Literary Supplement, May 2009


orn in 1955 in Enniscorthy, County Wexford, Ireland, Colm Tóibín was the fourth of five children. He began writing poetry and stories at the age of 12, soon after the death of his father. In boarding school, he became a voracious reader, and he went on to graduate from University College Dublin. Immediately after college, he moved to Barcelona and taught English for three years, before returning to Ireland to begin a career in journalism. He worked as a journalist, columnist, and editor for several Irish papers and magazines from the late 1970s to the early 1980s, gaining an audience through his regular columns in papers like the Dublin Sunday Independent, and ultimately becoming the editor of Magill, Ireland’s leading current-affairs magazine,


Author Bio

Courtesy of Brooklyn PuBliC liBrary

Tóibín during its heyday from 1982-85. After leaving the magazine, Tóibín moved to South America. He settled for a while in Argentina, writing about the trial of President Galtieri and other authorities accused of human rights violations. His best journalism from this period is collected in The Trial of the Generals, which includes sections on South America, Africa, Ireland and more. In 1987, he published Walking Along the Border, an account of a journey by foot along the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, the first of many travelogues he would publish between novels. His first novel, The South, was completed in 1986, but not published until 1990, when it was met with widespread acclaim. Colm Tóibín is the author of six novels: The South, The Heather Blazing, The Story of the Night, The Blackwater Lightship,

The Master, which won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for fiction, and Brooklyn, which won the Costa Fiction Award, and Mothers and Sons, a book of short stories. He has given workshops and master classes at Listowel Writers Week, The Arvon Foundation and The American University at Washington D.C., and has also taught at the New School, Princeton University, Stanford University and the University of Texas at Austin. Tóibín’s books have been translated into 28 languages. He is a regular contributor to the London Review of Books and The New York Review of Books. Sources: Contemporary Authors, Gale, 2003. Witchel, Alex. “His Irish Diaspora.” New York

Times Magazine, May 3, 2009, 30-35.


Photo Courtesy of CorBis images, © Bettmann/CorBis

More by Colm Tóibín

FICTIon AnD DrAmA The South (1990). In 1939, an upper-class, Protestant, Irish woman leaves her family for Spain when her husband embroils their poor, Catholic neighbors in a lawsuit that she cannot support. Shortlisted for the Whitbread Prize and winner of the Irish Times / Aer Lingus International Fiction Prize.


The Heather Blazing (1992). A judge and his wife plan on retiring to the Irish village of Enniscorthy, but various events conspire to strain their plans and their marriage. Shortlisted for the Guardian Fiction Prize, and winner of the Encore Prize for best second novel published in Britain.

The Story of the Night (1997). The coming of age story of a half-English, closeted, gay Argentinean man who works as a tutor and translator, while Argentina emerges from a period of war and from the oppression of a military dictatorship. Winner of the FerroGrumley prize for best gay novel. The Blackwater Lightship (1999). Three generations of women from a fractured Irish family are brought together in a seaside cottage to care for a son in his final days dying of AIDS. Shortlisted for the Booker prize. The Master (2004). A fictionalized account of a period in the life of celebrated American novelist Henry James, who has moved to a country home in England and is attempting to mount a play on the London stage. Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for fiction, Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger, the Stonewall Book Award, and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Beauty in a Broken Place (2004). In Tóibín’s only play, when William Butler Yeats and Lady Augusta Gregory mount a 1926 production of Sean O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars in their Abbey Theatre to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Uprising, their production sparks riots in the streets of Dublin. Mothers and Sons (2006). A collection of short fiction featuring, among its stories, a new widow who tries to hide from her children the desperate state of her finances; a man leading a party of townspeople in a search for his alcoholic mother, who has gone missing in a blizzard; the proud mother of a Catholic priest who is the last to learn of the criminal allegations against him. Winner of the Edge Hill Prize for the best book of short stories published in Britain in 2006.

Martyrs and Metaphors (1987). An interpretive history of nine Irish insurrections. Walking Along the Border (1987). photographs by Tony O’Shea. (Also published as Bad Blood: A Walk Along the Irish Border.) Describes the people and the landscape between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, particularly in the aftermath of the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985. Homage to Barcelona (1990). An in-depth history of the city and its culture, from inception to contemporary times. The Trial of the Generals: Selected Journalism, 1980-1990 (1990). Selected journalism, including correspondences from Argentina, Sudan, and Egypt. Dubliners (1990). photographs by Tony O’Shea. This travelogue captures a year in the life of Dublin and its citizens. The Sign of the Cross: Travels in Catholic Europe (1994). Describes Holy Weeks spent successively in Poland, Seville, Bavaria, Rome, and the Balkans, and reflects on the state of contemporary Catholicism throughout Europe. The Modern Library: The Two Hundred Best Novels in English since 1950 (1999, with Carmen Callil). Lady Gregory’s Toothbrush (2002). Profiles of Lady Augusta Gregory, the formidable matriarch of the Irish Literary Revival, and those in her literary and political circles. Love in a Dark Time: Gay Lives from Wilde to Almodovar (2002). Drawn from articles published in the London Review of Books, considers the lives of gay and lesbian writers and artists living in and out of secrecy, embracing or rejecting a gay identity.


More by More by Tóibín Tóibín


Programs & events Programs are free and open to the public, with no reservations required unless otherwise noted. For more information on programming, call (312) 747-8191 or go to

FILm Film Screening and Discussion Sunday, March 7, 2:00 p.m.

Beverly Arts Center 2407 W. 111th St. Gateway, directed by Alfred Werker, is the

story of an Irish immigrant (Arlene Whalen)

who meets a returning war correspondent

(Don Ameche) on a liner bound for New York. Originally titled “Ellis Island” and produced in 1938 by 20th Century Fox, Gateway is an intriguing glimpse of the immigration process in the years before World War II. After the film, stay for a panel discussion on “Irish Immigration: reel vs. reality” with Tim reilly, Vice Consul, Irish Consulate of Chicago; mary Ann ryan, Irish Studies scholar from Chicago State University; and moderator matt Walsh, executive director of the Beverly Area Planning Association. Tickets are $10, $8 for members. Call the box office at (773) 445-3838 for tickets or more information. Presented in partnership with the Beverly Arts Center’s 11th Chicago Irish Film Festival, March 5-10:


Colm Tóibín in Conversation

Wednesday, April 21, 6:00 p.m. Chicago Public Library Harold Washington Library Center Cindy Pritzker Auditorium 400 S. State St. The acclaimed author joins Chicago Public Library Commissioner mary Dempsey in conversation about his life and work, writing Brooklyn, and what’s next for him.

PErFormAnCE Brooklyn: on Stage and In Song In a premier event directed by michael Patrick Thornton, founder of The Gift Theatre in Chicago, and Lindsey Barlag of Genesis Ensemble, this performance includes Chicago actors reading from Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn, interspersed with performances from some of the best musicians of traditional Irish music in Chicago. Join us for a full 90-minute performance on April 11th (and stay for a pint) or take in a shorter, condensed performance at any of four separate additional locations. Presented in partnership with the Irish American Heritage Center

Abbreviated performances: Wednesday, March 17, Noon Chicago Public Library Harold Washington Library Center Grand Lobby 400 S. State St. Thursday, April 8, Noon Chicago Public Library Harold Washington Library Center Grand Lobby 400 S. State St. Tuesday, April 13, 6:00 p.m. Chicago Public Library Mount Greenwood Branch 11010 S. Kedzie Ave. Wednesday, April 28, 6:00 p.m. DePaul University John R. Cortelyou Commons Building 2324 N. Fremont St. Presented in partnership with DePaul University’s Department of English

Programs & Events

CorBis images, © JaCk moeBes/CorBis

Full performance: Sunday, April 11, 2:30 – 4:00 p.m. The Fifth Province Pub at the Irish American Heritage Center 4626 N. Knox Ave. Pub open from 1:30 – 5:00 p.m.

“An Evening with Eilis” at DePaul University Monday, April 19, 6:00 p.m. DePaul University John R. Cortelyou Commons Building 2324 N. Fremont St. 6:00 p.m. - 1950’s Fashion Showcase: What Would Eilis Wear? Whether she’s headed to work at Bartocci’s or to a church dance, Eilis displays her flair for fashion, which evolves as she creates her new life in Brooklyn. Designers from local vintage clothing shops contribute to this fashion showcase, which features sartorial ensembles that might have been worn by Eilis and other characters in the book. 6:30 p.m. - Irish Céilí Dance Performance and Instruction Award-winning dancers from the Trinity Academy of Irish Dance perform and teach Céilí dancing. This traditional form of Irish social dancing is a tangible link to the old country and its ways. Sponsored by DePaul University’s Department of English


Programs & events Programs are free and open to the public, with no reservations required unless otherwise noted. For more information on programming, call (312) 747-8191 or go to

PAnEL DISCUSSIonS Leaving Home, Finding Home Wednesday, April 7, 6:00 p.m. DePaul University John R. Cortelyou Commons Building 2324 N. Fremont St. DePaul faculty scholars and creative writers James H. murphy, James Fairhall, Liam Heneghan, mary mcCain and Patricia monaghan consider themes of exile and new discovery of self and place. With Tóibín’s Brooklyn as a starting point, they address the work of other Irish writers and look at stories of settling and finding home in America. Sponsored by DePaul University’s Department of English

experiences as lifelong members of Chicago’s vibrant Irish community. As storytellers who have informed and delighted Chicagoans for years, the panelists consider how their Irish roots have influenced their personal and professional identities. Sponsored by DePaul University’s Department of English

Being “Green” In Chicago Tuesday, April 27, 6:00 p.m. DePaul University Student Center, Room 120 2250 N. Sheffield Ave. Chicago Irish writers mike Houlihan and

Sharon Shea Bossard read from their books,

Hooliganism and Finding Your Chicago Irish,

and discuss the nature of family and community in relation to Tóibín’s work and to their own


DEPAUL UnIvErSITY CoUrSE Contemporary Irish Literature: Leaving Home, Finding Home DePaul University’s Department of English offers a course dedicated to exploring literary facets of the city’s One Book, One Chicago selection. The spring 2010, English 378:

Programs & Events

CorBis images, © JaCk moeBes/CorBis

“Literature and Social Engagement – Chicago’s One Book: Issues and Perspectives” is taught by James H. Murphy, a professor who teaches 19th century British and Irish literature and contemporary Irish literature and writes extensively about the history of fiction and the political history of 19th century Ireland. The course explores the work of Colm Tóibín in the context of contemporary Irish literature. Brooklyn will be read in connection with other work by Tóibín, notably The Blackwater Lightship. Tóibín’s fiction takes its place alongside that of other recent leading Irish novelists such as Roddy Doyle, Patrick McCabe, John McGahern, and Seamus Deane; playwrights Martin McDonagh, Sebastian Barry, and Marina Carr; and poets Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley, Derek Mahon, Eavan Boland, Paula Meehan, and Paul Durcan. This ten-week course meets mondays and Wednesdays, from 11:20 a.m. - 12:50 p.m., beginning march 29, 2010. Sponsored by DePaul University’s Department of English. This is a paid tuition-based course. For more information, go to or call (773) 325-7485.

InTErnATIonAL onLInE DISCUSSIon For five weeks, from march 29 – April 30, this online discussion forum will be open to all readers wishing to share their thoughts on various themes and topics from Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn. Presented in partnership with the Cúirt Festival of the Galway Arts Center in Ireland, this forum will bring readers from Ireland and Chicago together around this great work of literature and its very universal themes.


Programs & events Programs are free and open to the public, with no reservations required unless otherwise noted. For more information on programming, call (312) 747-8191 or go to

ProGrAmS For TEEnS Teen volume reader’s Theatre Troupe Performance Wednesday, April 21, 5:30 p.m. Chicago Public Library Harold Washington Library Center YOUmedia 400 S. State St. (312) 747-4780 Chicago Public Library’s Teen Volume Reader’s Theatre Troupe brings books to life in performances of adaptations from current and classic literature relating to themes found in Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín.

Teen volume Book Discussions Join an engaging book discussion for teens in


Monday, April 12, 4:30 p.m. Thurgood Marshall Branch Thursday, April 15, 4:00 p.m. Albany Park Branch Thursday, April 29, 4:00 p.m. Harold Washington Library Center YOUmedia

YoUmedia and Brooklyn: Change, Choice, and Alternate Endings Chicago Public Library Harold Washington Library Center YOUmedia 400 S. State St. Check web site for workshop schedule: (312) 747-4780 Life is full of stories. We are a culture that loves to watch, listen and become a part of others’

Programs & Events

image donated By CorBis © JaCk moeBes/CorBis

high school, ages 14-19. Three discussions at Chicago Public Library locations will focus on Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín. Please be sure to stop by or call the branch library to sign up in advance for each discussion and pick up or reserve a copy of the book.

stories, often imagining ourselves in someone else’s reality. However, sometimes we get too caught up watching and not making our own stories—our own lives—compelling. Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn is the story of a young woman with an ordinary, familiar life that changes drastically when she makes one decision and takes steps toward a very different future. As YOUmedia reads Eilis’s story in Brooklyn, we challenge you to think about the personal narrative you’re shaping right now. How might one decision change the course of your life, relationships and future? What journey will your choices take you on, and how will you make your story more than ordinary? YoUmedia connects young adults with books, digital technologies and Chicago’s educational and cultural communities, inspiring collaboration and creativity. our Brooklyn series of workshops include: Legacy Seekers – Discover and document your family’s history as an investigative Podcaster or Filmmaker. The Game of Life – Create an interactive reality and life experiment with Sims3 and


CPL Discussion

Attend a discussion of Brooklyn at your local Chicago Public Library location. Discussions are listed chronologically and are free and open to the public. No reservations required.


Thursday, April 1, 6:00 p.m. Walker Branch 11071 S. Hoyne Ave. (312) 747-1920

Monday, April 12, 1:00 p.m. Near North Branch 310 W. Division St. (312) 744-0991

Thursday, April 15, 6:30 p.m. Garfield Ridge Branch 6348 S. Archer Ave. (312) 747-6094

Thursday, April 1, 6:30 p.m. Albany Park Branch 5150 N. Kimball Ave. (312) 744-1933

Monday, April 12, 6:30 p.m. Clearing Branch 6423 W. 63rd Pl. (312) 747-5657

Friday, April 16, 10:00 a.m. Brighton Park Branch 4314 S. Archer Ave. (312) 747-0666

Saturday, April 3, 11:00 a.m. Humboldt Park Branch 1605 N. Troy Ave. (312) 744-2244

Monday, April 12, 7:00 p.m. Oriole Park Branch 7454 W. Balmoral Ave. (312) 744-1965

Saturday, April 17, 10:00 a.m. Roosevelt Branch 1101 W. Taylor St. (312) 746-5656

Monday, April 5, 7:00 p.m. McKinley Park Branch 1915 W. 35th St. (312) 747-6082

Tuesday, April 13, 6:30 p.m. Independence Branch 3548 W. Irving Park Rd. (312) 744-0900

Saturday, April 17, 11:00 a.m. Back of the Yards Branch 4650 S. Damen Ave. (312) 747-8367

Thursday, April 8, 6:30 p.m. Lincoln Park Branch 1150 W. Fullerton Ave. (312) 744-1926

Wednesday, April 14, 2:00 p.m. Beverly Branch 1962 W. 95th St. (312) 747-9673

Saturday, April 17, 11:00 a.m. Bucktown-Wicker Park Branch 1701 N. Milwaukee Ave. (312) 744-6022

Thursday, April 8, 7:00 p.m. Hegewisch Branch 3048 E. 130th St. (312) 747-0046

Wednesday, April 14, 6:00 p.m. Avalon Branch 8148 S. Stony Island Ave. (312) 747-5234

Saturday, April 17, 11:00 a.m. Harold Washington Library Center 400 S. State St., 3rd fl., rm. 3N-6 (312) 747-4700

Saturday, April 10, 11:00 a.m. Near North Branch 310 W. Division St. (312) 744-0991

Wednesday, April 14, 6:30 p.m. Manning Branch 6 S. Hoyne Ave. (312) 746-6800

Saturday, April 10, 3:00 p.m. Rogers Park Branch 6907 N. Clark St. (312) 744-0156

Wednesday, April 14, 7:00 p.m. Sulzer Regional Library 4455 N. Lincoln Ave. (312) 744-7616

Monday, April 12, 11:00 a.m. Mount Greenwood Branch 11010 S. Kedzie Ave. (312) 747-2805

Thursday, April 15, 6:00 p.m. Lincoln Belmont Branch 1659 W. Melrose St. (312) 744-0166


Saturday, April 17, 1:00 p.m. Blackstone Branch 4904 S. Lake Park Ave. (312) 747-0511 Saturday, April 17, 1:00 p.m. South Shore Branch 2505 E. 73rd St. (312) 747-5281 Saturday, April 17, 1:00 p.m. Uptown Branch 929 W. Buena Ave. (312) 744-8400

Saturday, April 24, 11:00 a.m. Brainerd Branch 1350 W. 89th St. (312) 747-6291 Saturday, April 24, 11:00 a.m. Budlong Woods Branch 5630 N. Lincoln Ave. (312) 742-9590 Monday, April 26, 6:30 p.m. Portage-Cragin Branch 5108 W. Belmont Ave. (312) 744-0152

Saturday, April 17, 3:00 p.m. Merlo Branch 644 W. Belmont Ave. (312) 744-1139

Wednesday, April, 21, 6:00 p.m. Sherman Park Branch 5440 S. Racine Ave. (312) 747-0477

Monday, April 19, 1:00 p.m. Vodak - East Side Branch 3710 E. 106th St. (312) 747-5500

Wednesday, April 21, 6:30 p.m. Austin-Irving Branch 6100 W. Irving Park Rd. (312) 744-6222

Monday, April 19, 6:30 p.m. North Austin Branch 5724 W. North Ave. (312) 746-4233

Wednesday, April 21, 6:30 p.m. Galewood-Mont Clare Branch 6969 W. Grand Ave. (312) 746-5032

Tuesday, April 20, 6:00 p.m. Hall Branch 4801 S. Michigan Ave. (312) 747-2541

Thursday, April 22, 6:30 p.m. Scottsdale Branch 4101 W. 79th St. (312) 747-0193

Tuesday, April 20, 6:00 p.m. West Chicago Ave. Branch 4856 W. Chicago Ave. (312) 743-0260

Saturday, April 24, 10:00 a.m. Pullman Branch 11001 S. Indiana Ave. (312) 747-2033

Tuesday, April 20, 6:30 p.m. Jefferson Park Branch 5363 W. Lawrence Ave. (312) 744-1998

Saturday, April 24, 10:15 a.m. Thurgood Marshall Branch 7506 S. Racine Ave. (312) 747-5927

Wednesday, April 21, 2:00 p.m. Northtown Branch 6435 N. California Ave. (312) 744-2292

Saturday, April 24, 10:30 a.m. King Branch 3436 S. King Dr.

(312) 747-7543

Tuesday, April 27, 6:30 p.m. West Belmont Branch 3104 N. Narragansett Ave. (312) 746-5142 Wednesday, April 28th, 6:00 p.m. Canaryville Branch 642 W. 43rd St. (312) 747-0644 Wednesday, April 28, 6:30 p.m. Archer Heights Branch 5055 S. Archer Ave. (312) 747-9241 Wednesday, April 28, 6:30 p.m. Edgebrook Branch 5331 W. Devon Ave. (312) 744-8313 Wednesday, April 28, 7:00 p.m. Woodson Regional Library 9525 S. Halsted St. (312) 747-6921 Thursday, April 29, 12:00 p.m. Harold Washington Library Center - Talking Book Center 400 S. State St, 5N (312)747-4001 Thurdsay, April 29 1:00 p.m. Whitney M. Young Jr. Branch 7901 S. King Dr. (312) 747-0039


Discussion Groups

Tuesday, April 27, 6:30 p.m. Roden Branch 6083 N. Northwest Hwy. (312) 744-1478


Questions 1.

In Ireland, much remains unsaid between Eilis, her mother and her sister Rose, particularly when they prepare for Eilis’s departure for America. Why do you feel that they don’t express themselves more freely? Does their silence make her leaving easier or more difficult? What might they say if they were less guarded?


The letters that Eilis receives from home are her only connection to other people when she first gets to Brooklyn. Contrast this situation with the ease of communication—via email, social networks, etc.— today. Does the infrequency of letters to and from home make it easier for Eilis to establish her place in Brooklyn? Would such freedom be more difficult today, with the constant communication available to us?




What are some of the contrasts between Eilis’s home life in Enniscorthy with Tony’s in Brooklyn? What do you think Tóibín’s intentions were in creating this contrast between their physical homes as well as their families? Eilis’s brothers have all moved to England before Eilis herself goes to America, and a contrast is drawn between those two emigration stories: “while people from the town who lived in England missed Enniscorthy, no one who went to America missed home. Instead they were happy there and proud.” (p. 26) Why might Eilis have had this preconception? Later, when she sees the poor Irish men come for Christmas dinner at the Brooklyn church, she is shocked and wonders why they haven’t gone home. How important is the shattering of this preconception to Eilis’s growth?


What do you think of Eilis’s reaction to various discriminations that are presented in the book—from her relationship with Tony who is Italian American, to her interaction with African American women at her job, to her response to the new boarder at Mrs. Kehoe’s who cleans homes and is looked down upon by the other boarders? What do these various levels of the 1950s class system say about Brooklyn, and America, at that time?


How do Eilis’s feelings for Tony grow, and how realistic do you feel their relationship is?


How does Eilis perceive herself before she leaves for America, and how is she perceived by others? Discuss how that changes when she returns to Ireland later in the book.


Why doesn’t Eilis want to accept Rose’s clothes from her mother when she returns to Ireland? Discuss the importance of clothes to the sisters and their mother, as well as their importance to the women at the boarding house in Brooklyn.


Share your thoughts on the ending of the novel. If there were another 50 pages to be added, what would you like to see happen for Eilis, and where should she ultimately call home?

10. Think about the character of Eilis and discuss how accessible she is. How much did you relate to Eilis, and did you find her likeable? How important is it to simply like a character at the heart of a story, and do your feelings about a character affect your feelings about a story as a whole?

Book Club in a Bag

Use your Chicago Public Library card to check out a tote bag filled with eight copies of Brooklyn, resource guides and tips for your book club. Book Club in a Bag is available by placing a hold online at or at the following locations: Beverly Branch, 1962 W. 95th St. Blackstone Branch, 4904 S. Lake Park Ave. Harold Washington Library Center, 400 S. State St., Popular Library rogers Park Branch, 6907 N. Clark St. Sulzer regional Library, 4455 N. Lincoln Ave. West Chicago Ave. Branch, 4856 W. Chicago Ave. Woodson regional Library, 9525 S. Halsted St. For details, please call (312) 747-8191.

Discussion Questions

outside Book Discussions Join a discussion group outside of the Chicago Public Library at the following locations. Reservations are not required. CPL thanks these participating organizations! Sunday, April 11, 1:00 p.m. Irish American Heritage Center – Library 4626 N. Knox Ave. (773) 282-7035

Thursday, April 15, 7:00 p.m. Wright College – Library 4300 N. Narragansett Ave., 2nd floor lounge (773) 481-8400

Tuesday, April 13, 1:00 p.m. Literacy Chicago 17 N. State St., Ste 1010 (312) 870-1100

Saturday, April 17, 2:00 p.m. open Books 213 W. Institute Pl. (312) 475-1355

Thursday, April 15, 2:00 p.m. Loyola University Chicago Water Tower Campus Corboy Law Center Conference Room 713 25 E. Pearson St. (773) 508-2674

Thursday, April 22, 2:00 – 4:00 p.m. Harold Washington College 30 East Lake St., room 201 (312) 553-5883

Thursday, April 22, 7:00 Gerber/Hart Library 1127 W. Granville Ave. (773) 381-8030 Tuesday, April 27, 7:00 p.m. Barnes & noble old orchard Presented by the Great Books Foundation 55 Old Orchard Center, Skokie (847) 676-2230

Pronunciation: Eilis Lacey (EYE-lish), Colm (COL-lum) Tóibín (toe-BEAN)



The Guardian, Saturday 2 May, 2009


Two Thousand Moments

by Colm Tóibín


novel is made up of a thousand, maybe two thousand details in which dreams and experiences are packed so close together that they merge or melt oddly into each other. When I was 12 years old, a woman came to our house and told my mother the story of the novel Brooklyn, which I began to write almost 40 years later. I cannot think why I was in the room listening or why I remembered the story. It was just a few sentences, but it stayed in my mind. Then, in the spring of 2000, in the Santa Maddalena Foundation outside Florence in the house of the writer Gregor von Rezzori, which had been opened to writers by his widow Beatrice Monti, I wrote the first chapter of my novel The Master and a story set in Enniscorthy, where I am from in Ireland, called “House for Sale”. The two pieces could not have been more different in content and style. I published the story but did not include it in the collection Mothers and Sons. I wanted to add to it, and I thought about it a good deal over the next six years. During these years a few things happened that would make the novel Brooklyn come


Eilis would have given anything to be able to say plainly that she did not want to go. [ P. 32]

into being. I began to spend time in the US, first on a fellowship at New York Public Library and later teaching in Texas and California. Also, I built a house in a remote place overlooking the sea in the south-east of Ireland. The house was just beside the place where we had spent every summer until my father died. When I was away in America, I dreamed about the house, dreamed about filling it with books and furniture, and spending time there doing what the poet Elizabeth Bishop called “nothing, or nothing much”, or maybe writing or walking on the beach or sitting looking at the sea.

I was homesick for a place I had not called home for many years. When The Master had been published in 2004 and then the collection of stories Mothers and Sons in 2006, I thought I would return to “House for Sale”. It was still fresh enough in my mind for me to start, writing a second chapter to it, as though it were a novel. I have a vivid memory of one night in that house in Ireland I thought I should read “House for Sale” again, to make sure the chapter I was working on would fit seamlessly with it. In the first two pages of the story I had used that scene when a woman visited my mother when I was 12 and told her a story, the story that became Brooklyn. I had put the story into a single paragraph, thrown it away. Now, in this new house, late at night, I realised that this story, and this story alone, was what I was looking for. It had everything I needed, or rather over the previous six years since I had experienced the constant business of leaving Ireland and coming back to a newly invented home, I had everything it needed. I had the emotions the character would need. I had some of the experiences.


Writing “Brooklyn”

ChiCago PuBliC liBrary, sulzer regional liBrary

Also, in 2001 I joined the choir in my local Catholic church St Gregory’s on New York’s Upper West Side. It had once been an Irish church, but was now used by congregations who included very few Irish. On Fridays as we practised, I could sense the old ghosts, the Irish immigrants who had used this building as their home from home in America. And the Irish priests who had served them. By that year, the East Village in New

York had ceased to be trendy; if you were young and talented you lived in Brooklyn and made a virtue out of a neighbourhood like Williamsburg or Cobble Hill. I started going to parties in Brooklyn and then slowly, courtesy of the writer Robert Sullivan and his family, went to mass a few times on Sundays there. Once more, I was aware of an older city, a place inhabited by immigrants — Italians, Irish, Jews — which had slowly changed. In America, I dreamed all the time of going back to the house I had built overlooking the Irish Sea. In San Francisco, when I taught at Stanford for two terms, I used to drive out on a Saturday to Point Reyes to look at the ocean and dream about my own ocean thousands of miles away. Sometimes

Somehow, she thought, if she could look at him, take him in clearly when he was not trying to amuse her or impress her, something would come to her, some knowledge, or some ability to make a decision. [ P. 150 ]


Then I knew what to do. I knew to forget myself and begin imagining a character. Give her a sensibility, a way of seeing the world, very far from my own. But it was hard once I put her on a boat not to use some terrible times I myself have had with seasickness, where I have retched for days on end on boats. I read an oral history of Brooklyn in the 1940s and 50s, and some books about the culture of baseball there. I looked at old photographs. I walked the streets of Brooklyn where my heroine would walk. I went to Coney Island. I asked Robert Sullivan if I could use his house in Brooklyn as the boarding house for Eilis Lacey, my character. He later discovered that a house just beside his had, in fact, been an Irish boarding house up to the 70s. I needed to know what it was like for an innocent girl to have sex for the first time, and I asked a friend who furnished me with much fascinating information. She almost drew diagrams.

and my setting. I was careful not to do too much research, because what I needed more than anything was to imagine a psychology rather than a topography, a character rather than a time and place. And I was careful to keep myself—my own opinions, my own psychology—out of the book and to put as much of myself—my dreams, some experiences, a sense of what had happened to me over the previous decade—hidden darkly in the book as metaphor or emotional ballast. I wrote down a thousand, or two thousand, details and tried to make them true. I smiled at the sly thought that no one would ever know which of them belonged to dreams and which of them to experience. Copyright Guardian News & Media Ltd 2009


Writing “Brooklyn”

I asked a friend also to ask a friend about the names for nylon stockings that African American women wore in 1951. But mostly I dreamed. I dreamed my half-real homesickness and gave it to Eilis Lacey more intensely. I dreamed the fierce cold of the New York winter. I dreamed a women’s boarding house and dances. I dreamed the Irish in New York in the early 50s. I dreamed an Italian family. And then I dreamed demons and I wished I could keep them at bay, but some of them were my demons and they would not rest until I had placed them in the book too. And I made up a plot, adding to it slowly, using what I had learned from Henry James about secrecy and point of view, and seeing if I could apply that to my character


Then now The Economics of “Brooklyn”

Sailing across the Atlantic

Wedding ring

THEn: $156 Tourist, $246 First Class on the Canadian Pacific “Empress of Scotland”, New York City to Liverpool, England (New York Times, March 2, 1952) noW: $907-$4501 on the Cunard Queen Mary 2, New York City to Southampton, England (

THEn: $100-150 Average in Chicago (Chicago Tribune, February 20, 1952) noW: $2500 Average in Chicago (Chicago Tribune, November 12, 2006)

movie ticket

ChiCago PuBliC liBrary, sulzer regional liBrary

THEn: 65 cents after 6:00 p.m. (Chicago Tribune, April 30, 1952) noW: $11 adult, after 6:00 p.m. (


Quart of milk THEn: 23.5 cents in stores; 25.5 cents delivery (Chicago Tribune, February 29, 1952) noW: $1.99 Dean’s Milk 2% Reduced Fat (

THEn: $10 million - What Chicagoans spent on Thanksgiving, 1952 (Chicago Tribune, November 21, 1952) noW: $28.5 billion - What Americans spent on Thanksgiving, 2009 (

Postage THEn: 3 cents, Domestic letters per ounce noW: 44 cents, Domestic letters per ounce (

Subway fare THEn: 10 cents NYC subway ride ( noW: $2.25 NYC subway or bus ride (

Cardigan sweater THEn: $5.65 Cardigan twinset made of virgin wool (Sears Midwinter Sales Book, 1952) noW: $54 Style&co. long-sleeve cardigan (

nylons THEn: $1.19 / pair (Sears Midwinter Sales

Book, 1952) noW: $7 / pair (

Dodgers game THEn: Bleachers 60 cents, Reserved seats in front of rail $1.75, Box seats $3, Upper stand unreserved $1.25 noW: From $4 - $500 individual ticket for the 2009 season (Los Angeles Dodgers ticket sales office)

Popular Movies

Popular Songs

All About Eve (1950) Sunset Blvd. (1950) Strangers on a Train (1951) High Noon (1952) Singin’ in the Rain (1952) Le Salaire de la Peur (The Wages of Fear) (1953) On the Waterfront (1954) Rear Window (1954) The Night of the Hunter (1955) The Killing (1956) Paths of Glory (1957) The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) Vertigo (1958) North by Northwest (1959) Some Like It Hot (1959)

1950 “Mona Lisa” by Nat King Cole “Rollin’ Stone” by Muddy Waters “Teardrops from My Eyes” by Ruth Brown 1951 “Hey Good Lookin’” by Hank Williams “Too Young” by Nat King Cole “Sixty Minute Man” by The Dominoes 1952 “Goin’ Home” by Fats Domino “Juke” by Little Walter “My Song” by Johnny Ace


1953 “Your Cheatin’ Heart” by Hank Williams “Money Honey” by The Drifters “Crying in the Chapel” by The Orioles


Economics of “Brooklyn”


f urther

Reading Additional online resources are available in the HTML Resource Guide on the Chicago Public Library website:

rECommEnDED FICTIon Brick Lane by Monica Ali Newly married to a little-known suitor, Nazneen follows her husband from her home in Bangladesh to an immigrant community in London. Speaking little English and unused to the cold, dull urban landscape and unfamiliar manners of British people, she works to overcome isolation and loneliness to raise a family, and eventually finds the strength to take charge of her life.

Away by Amy Bloom Alone in 1920s-era New York after her husband and parents were killed in a Russian pogrom, Lillian Leyb must make a new life. Haunted by her missing three year-old daughter Sophie, Lillian finds work as a seamstress and becomes the mistress to a handsome actor. As her English and knowledge of American culture improve, Lillian eventually has the resources to set out across America in an epic search for her little girl.


Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison In this classic novel, a young black man struggles to find his place in 1950s New York. Feeling alone, he joins a group of social activists known as “The Brotherhood” but comes to find that their motivations are more to glorify themselves than an attempt to know him as a person.

The Servants’ Quarters by Lynn Freed With her father in a coma, nine year-old Cressida and her family are invited by family friend George Harding to move into the servants’ quarters of his mansion. While Cressida acts as a companion to his disabled nephew, she and Harding develop a strange fascination with one another.

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan After moving to a farm she calls Mudbound to reflect the lack of amenities and her state of mind, Laura welcomes her brother-in-law and his friend home from World War II. Their difficulties readjusting to life in rural Mississippi bring her face to face with the racism in her community and the horrors of war in this haunting novel.

Western Europe to take a job at the only university that will hire her as a mathematician. Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson Aging widower Trond Sander has retired to an isolated house in Norway when a neighbor whose brother knew him as a boy brings back memories of a summer afternoon spent stealing horses. The day, which began as a joyous prank quickly turned to cruel tragedy, now remembered with the pain of a child’s loss and the wisdom of an adult’s perspective. Shanghai Girls by Lisa See Bestselling author See brings a tale of two sisters who leave Shanghai—sold by their father into marriage to unknown men—for Los Angeles in the 1930s. After undergoing horrifying ordeals while in quarantine on Angel Island for months, the sisters forge a new life in America while managing to retain the Chinese traditions that bring them comfort.

The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee Newlywed Claire Pendleton arrives in Hong Kong in 1952 and quickly finds work as a piano teacher for a rich Chinese family. She and their driver, Will Truesdale, fall in love, and as their affair becomes more public, the truth about Will’s shadowy past during the Japanese occupation comes to light. Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro Munro explores the difficulties of everyday life in ten beautifully written short stories. The title story follows Russian immigrant Sophia on her journey across 19th century

The Help by Kathryn Stockett Returning home to Jackson, Mississippi in 1962, recent graduate and aspiring writer Skeeter Phelan starts interviewing the African American women who work as maids and nannies in her community. This book looks at life in the pre-Civil Rights era south with sensitivity and compassion. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout Thirteen short stories revolve around schoolteacher Olive Kitteridge and her family over a period of 30 years. Their struggles to understand and love one another are contrasted with the beauty of the natural world that surrounds their home in coastal Maine. Love and Summer by William Trevor In a small Irish town in the 1950s, an older farmer’s sheltered young wife, Ellie, begins a flirtation with Florian, who is more interested in moving to America than in a lasting relationship. Their affair is overseen and discouraged by the bitter Miss Connulty, who has spent a lifetime atoning for her mistakes with a lover who abandoned her in her youth.


Further Reading

The Ladies’ Lending Library by Janice Kulyk Keefer A group of immigrant housewives in Ontario spend the summer of 1963 discussing racy novels, imposing traditional Ukrainian values on their unruly children, and fawning over Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton’s scandalous love affair. When one of the women begins her own affair the group must examine their sometimes humdrum existence and decide if their comfortable life is more enticing than the excitement of the unknown.

f urther

Reading Additional online resources are available in the HTML Resource Guide on the Chicago Public Library website:

The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler When the glamorous Pauline meets ex-GI Michael at his family’s grocery store in December of 1941, they are swept up in a whirlwind romance. As the two settle into their roles as husband and wife, however, the ardor cools and the couple begin to fight over everyday trivialities as their personalities run head to head. A Short History of Women by Kate Walbert Dorothy Townsend, a British suffragist, dies in a hunger strike for women’s rights at the turn of the century. Through these short stories, Dorothy’s strong will is passed down through four generations of daughters—each facing her own decisions about womanhood at her time in history. Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead After spending the school year as some of the only black kids at white, upper class private schools, Benji Cooper and his younger brother Reggie are eager to spend their summer with friends in Sag Harbor. But as the long days of summer wind down, Benji begins to realize that his carefree summers are numbered in this touching autobiographical novel.


rECommEnDED nonFICTIon Brooklyn: A State of Mind edited by Michael W. Robbins This wonderful compilation of essays and commentaries offers a virtual tour of multicultural Brooklyn, from its bustling waterfront to its renowned cultural institutions. This collection defines, in a larger context, where America has been and the ongoing evolution into what it will become. In The Country of Brooklyn: Inspiration to the World by Peter Golenbock This fascinating 20th century history told by the people who call Brooklyn home highlights social movements, a history of freedom and tolerance and the interwoven immigrant stories of its inhabitants. The Irish Americans: A History by Jay P. Dolan From the early 18th through the beginning of the 21st century, the Irish immigrant’s history is tightly woven into the framework of America’s story. These tales of resiliency and loyalty will be familiar to all interested in the struggle for a sense of place and purpose in American society.

neighborhood on Chicago’s southwest side. Written with true affection, this memoir is a reflection on being raised in a religious tradition and its impact on family and community during this era. Peasant Maids, City Women: from the European Countryside to Urban America by Christiane Harzig et al. This engaging collection tells the stories of assimilation from immigrant women who settled in Chicago from the mid-19th to the early 20th century, exploring how these women from rural Ireland, Poland, Sweden and Germany helped shape the future of this city.

Looking for Jimmy: a Search for Irish America by Peter Quinn “The Irish America of my search is the one into which I was born—a cohesive urban Catholic community constructed from a peasantry fragmented, transplanted, transformed and defined by the Great Famine and its consequences,” reflects author Peter Quinn about his personal history growing up in the Bronx. Through a series of essays, the essence of what it means to be an American of Irish descent is defined and explored.

Song of Brooklyn: An Oral History of America’s Favorite Borough by Marc Eliot This oral history captures the essence of this borough through the words of the famous— Mel Brooks, Spike Lee and Joan Rivers—as well as the everyday people who will always call Brooklyn their home. We Would Have Played for Nothing: Baseball Stars of the 1950s and 1960s Talk About the Game They Loved by Fay Vincent This series of interviews bring together the top major league players of this era reflecting their love of baseball during its golden era. This fascinating history about the hopes and aspirations of these players reflects America’s sense of self-identity as seen through the eyes of these men.

Parish the Thought: an Inspirational Memoir of Growing up Catholic in the 1960s by John Bernard Ruane Ruane presents a time capsule of parish life during the early 1960s in a working class


Further Reading

A Long Stone’s Throw by Alphie McCourt Leaving Limerick to pursue his dreams, Alphie McCourt’s memoir of his travels and personal journey comes full circle with McCourt’s final destination, New York City. In this touching and humorous memoir, McCourt continues the family’s writing tradition begun by his brothers, Frank and Malachy.

f urther

Reading Additional online resources are available in the HTML Resource Guide on the Chicago Public Library website:

For KIDS AnD TEEnS As people move to new homes, whether in different countries or different neighborhoods, they bring their stories with them. They may travel over oceans or mountains, alone or with families, early in life or later, and settle in cities or fields. The books below reflect this rich American heritage and celebrate what those experiences have in common and how they are all individually unique.

Fiction America Street: A Multicultural Anthology of Stories edited by Anne Mazer Ages 12 and up The Arrival by Shaun Tan Ages 12 and up Ask Me No Questions by Marina Budhos Ages 12 and up A Boy from Ireland by Marie Raphael Ages 12 and up


Fresh off the Boat by Melissa de la Cruz Ages 14 and up Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say Ages 4-8

Bridge to America: Based on a True Story by Linda Glaser Ages 9-12

Hattie and the Wild Waves: A Story from Brooklyn by Barbara Cooney Ages 4-8

Brooklyn Bridge by Karen Hesse Ages 11-14

Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate Ages 10-15

The Brooklyn Nine: A Novel in Nine Innings by Alan Gratz Ages 10-14

Journey of Dreams by Marge Pellegrino Ages 10-13

First Crossing: Stories about Teen Immigrants edited by Donald R. Gallo Ages 14 and up

Katie’s Wish by Barbara Shook Hazen, illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully Ages 6-9

Denied, Detained, Deported: Stories from the Dark Side of American Immigration By Ann Bausum Ages 10-13 Ellis Island: Coming to the Land of Liberty By Raymond Bial Ages 9-12 The History of Emigration from Ireland by Katherine Prior Ages 10-13 I Was Dreaming to Come to America: Memories from the Ellis Island Oral History Project by Veronica Lawlor Ages 9-12

Maggie’s Door by Patricia Reilly Giff Ages 8-12 Mimmy and Sophie: All Around the Town by Miriam Cohen, illustrated by Thomas F. Yezerski Ages 8-10 Path to My African Eyes by Ermila Moodley Ages 12 and up Small Beauties: The Journey of Darcy Heart O’Hara by Elvira Woodruff, illustrated by Adam Rex Ages 8-12

nonfiction At Ellis Island: A History in Many Voices by Louise Peacock, illustrated by Walter Lyon Krudop Ages 8-11 Colors of Freedom: Immigrant Stories by Janet Bode Ages 13 and up Coming to America: A Muslim Family’s Story by Bernard Wolf Ages 8-11

Immigrant Kids by Russell Freedman Ages 9-12 Remix: Conversations with Immigrant Teenagers by Marina Budhos Ages 13 and up We Came Through Ellis Island: The Immigrant Adventures of Emma Markowitz by Gare Thompson Ages 8-12

Coming to America: The Story of Immigration by Betsy Maestro, illustrated by Susannah Ryan Ages 7-9

Something about America by Maria Testa Ages 11-13


Further Reading

Lowji Discovers America by Candace Fleming Ages 8-11

Brooklyn a n ov e l by C O L M T Ó I B Í N

One Book, One Chicago S P R I N G 2010


City of Chicago Richard M. Daley, Mayor



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Brookyln (OBOC)  

Inaugurated in the fall of 2001, the One Book, One Chicago program is launched each spring and fall to cultivate a culture of reading and di...

Brookyln (OBOC)  

Inaugurated in the fall of 2001, the One Book, One Chicago program is launched each spring and fall to cultivate a culture of reading and di...