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“>Brooklyn” by Colm Toibin is one of the most compelling novels to come along in a long time.

In the 1950s Eilis lives with her
mother and sister in Ireland. The father died some years before and the brothers have found jobs in England, leaving just the three women.

Though of the working class, they are not poor. They get by and are happy enough, except that there are very few good jobs in the town, and Eilis does not have one of them. The best she can do is to work as a shop-girl.

Unlike her sister, Rose – the pretty one with all the personality – Eilis just moves along day by day. Eilis yearns to have an office job – as a bookkeeper, for example. But when a priest from America comes to town, everyone agrees that Eilis should move to Brooklyn. The priest says he lives in a nice Irish neighborhood where he can find her work and lodging close to the church. When he promises to do everything he can to help her emigrate, Eilis finds no way to say no.

Colm Toibin writes beautifully about what Eilis experiences as a new immigrant in Brooklyn: the Dodgers; Coney Island; the bright-colored dresses and makeup; and the Italian boys who, the Irish women warn, are just after their skirts. Then she meets Tony, an Italian boy who is caring and devoted.

Homesick at first, Eilis adapts and changes. And when she goes back to Ireland for a visit, she finds her home town both familiar and strange. She is caught between two worlds – America, the land of opportunity, and Ireland, the land of her childhood and of family obligations.

The author, Colm Toibin, has been short-listed for the Mann Booker Award twice before. He may just win the prize with this book.