My Family & Brooklyn: The Book, The Movie, The Borough

In 2010, when Colm Tóibín's novel Brooklyn was released, copies of it quickly circulated throughout my family. Everyone was talking about it. The quiet, powerful story of a young woman leaving her small Irish hometown for an unknown home in America was so eerily similar to the story of our own Rory (my grandmother). 

In the book (and in the movie, superbly adapted by Nick Hornby), the main character, Eilis Lacey leaves her mother, sister Rose, and precious little opportunity behind in Enniscorthy to make a new home in Brooklyn in the early 50s. 

This story was inspired by my grandmother - Rosanna "Rory" Walsh.

When my grandfather died, my great grandmother (Rory's mother in Enniscorthy) knocked on the author's door - he a boy of 12 at the time - to talk to his mother about her daughter in Brooklyn, whose husband had just died in Brooklyn, who had 4 children in Brooklyn. 

Rory, like Eilis and the author himself, was from Enniscorthy. Rory, like Eilis, left home for Brooklyn, fell in love, and married before telling her mother. Like Eilis, Rory's sister Molly died young while she was an ocean away from home.

Brooklyn, with all it's personal connections and specificities is also a universal immigrant story. A gentle story of what it means to leave home and find home, or to have home find you. There are no bad guys, no violence, no world to save - but Brooklyn manages to capture the power of ordinary and the melancholy of choosing your own way.

The film is gorgeous. Saoirse Ronan's intimate performance radiates on the screen & the chemistry between Ronan & Emory Cohen's adorable Tony is palpable. The period costumes are lovely and also indicate the differences between place as well as Eilis's evolving confidence. As she adapts to her new American life, the film shows her wearing new American duds and new American shades. Her clothes, her face, the film, become technicolor as Eilis emerges from her homesickness and becomes more confident.

Director John Crowley has patiently painted a big-hearted but biting picture of innocence, sadness, and the power of the ordinary. See it! But be prepared to cry. 

A Conversation About Brooklyn

In celebration of this beautiful film, and what the story means to us, I sat down with my Dad's two sisters, Margaret & Helen. Over tea, we discussed the experience of discovering their mother's story as written in Tóibín's poetic words, the experience of seeing their mother's home (literally, the house she grew up in is on the screen!) in the movies, and their memories of Rory and of Brooklyn.

Part 1: Brooklyn, The Book

When Grandma Rory came to Brooklyn, she met, loved, and married Tom Brown, an Irish-American police officer. They raised their 4 children in Brooklyn. When Tóibín's novel Brooklyn was being passed around, I had assumed someone had picked it up because it was called after their beloved borough and just happened to be their mother's story. But I learned that they knew from their Irish cousins that Enniscorthy's Tóibín was coming out with a new book called Brooklyn

In Part 1, Aunt Sissy & Aunt Helen answer some of my questions about how they found the book and about meeting the author, Colm Tóibín. 

Part 2: The Differences

Obviously, what makes Brooklyn so specifically special for my family is the likeness of Rory and her world. So much is obviously inspired by her distinct story. But, this is far from a biography. Tóibín crafted a wonderful fiction narrative around Rory with many key differences. 

In Part 2, Sissy & Helen talk about the differences between Rory's life and Eilis's life, including:

  • The timeline: Rory came to America in 1939, Eilis in the early 50s
  • Her family: Rory left behind both her parents, two brothers, and her younger sister, Molly
  • Tony & Long Island: Rory did not marry an Italian-American and move to Long Island like Eilis, she married an Irish-American and stayed in Brooklyn, although she and Tommy did get married in Bay Shore because they had family living out on the island

Part 3: Brooklyn, The Movie

With all these connections, it may seem difficult to form an unbiased opinion of the film. But, I haven't heard a single bad thing from anyone who has seen it. Except Sioban who says it was too short, we want more! (Hi Sioban!)

In Part 3, the Aunts talk about seeing Enniscorthy on the big screen, how Saoirse brought Rory back to life, and trying desperately to spot cousin Pat Kelly as an extra! 

This was the first time I've tried editing a video, be kind!

Have you seen Brooklyn yet? I would love to know what you think!

Disclosure: Links to Amazon are affiliate links, which means if you end up buying from Amazon I could earn some pocket money at zero cost to you!