Review: Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín

Goodreads description: Hauntingly beautiful and heartbreaking, Colm Tóibín’s sixth novel, Brooklyn, is set in Brooklyn and Ireland in the early 1950s, when one young woman crosses the ocean to make a new life for herself.

Eilis Lacey has come of age in small-town Ireland in the hard years following World War Two. 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, who loves the Dodgers and his big Italian 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.

Eilis is torn. She does not want to go to America to begin with, but deep down, she understands that her sister Rose, the charismatic, intelligent and beautiful rose, arranged a new life for her and this life is supposed to be better. Eilis, however, does not haste to make it so. She spends the most of her first five months in the United States being homesick and willingly locking herself inside a friendless, lonely existence and thinking what if she stayed in Ireland. Her small-town life wasn’t alluring or entertaining, and yet Eilis longs for something she can’t quite grasp.

Life in a new country is stressful and hard. Adaptation does not always go smoothly. Gradually, Eilis starts to open up, she meets Tony and falls in love, starting to get a sense of belonging in Brooklyn. Then, disaster strikes.

“It made her feel strangely as though she were two people, one who had battled against two cold winters and many hard days in Brooklyn and fallen in love there, and the other who was her mother’s daughter, the Eilis whom everyone knew, or thought they knew.” Almost seven years abroad on my own made me learn one thing, living somewhere else changes you, makes you stronger, makes you grow, but Eilis’s behavior upon her return to Ireland, namely dating another man, keeping her marriage secret, delaying her return for two weeks without even bothering to call Tony or her bosses, her thoughts about her feelings for Tony… All of these elements have showcased that, a year later, Eilis is still a girl that does not know who she is as a person and her actions back home feel like a sort of betrayal of the life Rose would have wanted for her sister. Emotionally she simply remains all-over-the-place, and while Brooklyn is, in some ways, resonant, relatable and touching, it ultimately is a book about a main character that could not get her mind together for over a year. There is some sympathy and liking for the main character, but the ending left too little space for respect.

There are several characters that, towards the end of the book, I started to dislike quite intensely. First, there’s Eilis’s brother Jack, who writes that she should drop everything in America and head back home, because her mother can’t be alone and they are supposed to head back to work in England. Then comes the mother herself, who thinks that Eilis’s new life in Brooklyn is seemingly so worthless, that she starts plotting to have her stay in Ireland without even asking questions about her new American life. Finally, there’s Eilis herself, the Irish chapters at the end of the book turned my opinion negative.

It would certainly be interesting to see how the adaptation of the novel would turn out, especially considering that I liked Brooklyn overall, even though I do have major complains about the main character growth. Overall grade: 4

Huge thanks to Penguin Books UK and NetGalley for offering Brooklyn ARC.

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain — and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height,
A luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.

Robert Frost, “Acquainted with the night”

Review: The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Hearing The Queen of the Tearling called “female” Game of Thrones makes me think of this:

George R. R. Martin women momentQuestioning the judgment of journalists from Variety, Figaro and a number of other media websites has never been this easy… Have they really been watching the same show and reading the same books? They probably didn’t do either.

There is no denying that George R.R. Martin created some of the strongest female characters out there. Arya, Daenaris,Cersei, Sansa, Melissadre, Bryenne, Margaery, even now deceased mamma Stark…. Mothers, sisters, wives – ladies run the show. While they may not be the most moral of role models, with all the lies, manipulations and murder sprees that surround  them, the suggestion that Game of Thrones is a guy oriented book/TV series is plain wrong. The Queen of the Tearling is branded a “female” Game of Thrones stems from the fact that Erika Johansen’s debut novel happens to have a strong-willed young woman for a lead. She’s also happens to live in a brutal, somewhat medieval post-apocalyptic world that has elements of magic about it. This is where the similarities end. The non-existent similarities with the Hunger Games series do not even deserve a discussion…

Young Kelsea Raleigh was raised in hiding after the death of her mother, Queen Elyssa, far from the intrigues of the royal Keep and in the care of two devoted servants who pledged their lives to protect her. Growing up in a cottage deep in the woods, Kelsea knows little of her kingdom’s haunted past . . . or that its fate will soon rest in her hands.

Kelsea grew up in isolation, taught to be just and fair, but unprepared for the true dangers and responsibilities that the crown bears and completely unaware of the real life of her kingdom under the rule of her evil (and weak) regent uncle. At 19, as the custom goes, Kelsea is supposed to take over the throne and the Queen’s Guard comes to find her to take her to the capital.

Queen Elyssa, Kelsea’s mother, was beautiful, vain and well… passively evil. When, years ago, the neighboring kingdom ruled by the Red Queen, invaded Tearling, Elyssa forged a peace treaty involving monthly human tribute. Men, women and children were picked by a lottery and shipped to face their fate in iron cages. First thing Kelsea does when she arrives to New London is free the prisoners unlucky souls, triggering adoration from the common folk and dangerous scheming from the corrupt noblemen and officials. She also lays ground for another war.

The writing style is engaging, but somewhat unexceptional for my taste. The character development is one of the strongest assets of The Queen of the Tearling,  however, we do get only small glimpses of the true thoughts and motivations of the the secondary characters. The unique feature of the book is the setting. Three hundred years prior to the described events, William Tear led a group of Europeans to a new, tech-free utopia. The books that still exist are the remnants of the pre-Crossing world, medicine and healing are a lost art… Johansen gives hints of an apocalyptic-like event (at least in my understanding) that led to the exodus, but does not provide sufficient detail. For some books, this could have been a major flaw, in case of the Tearling, the absence of information makes one look forward to the second installment entitled the Invasion of Tearling.

Overall: 4*

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Review: Looking for Alaska by John Green

“We need never be hopeless because we can never be irreparably broken.”

Before. Miles “Pudge” Halter’s whole existence has been one big nonevent, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave the “Great Perhaps” (François Rabelais, poet) even more. He heads off to the sometimes crazy, possibly unstable, and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed-up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young, who is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart.

After. Nothing is ever the same.

 One of the great mysteries of life is why Paper Towns movie happened before Looking for Alaska, because John Green’s Looking for Alaska is an emotional hurricane-of-a-novel.One that claws at your heart and makes it bleed…

Looking for Alaska is a young adult novel, a genre that I try to avoid since the moment I saw the sacrilegious mentions of Harry Potter in reading lists recommending teenage angst. Green is, however, an exception. Some books transcend genre and readership categorization, and Looking for Alaska, I believe is one of them. The man tore my heart to shreds with Fault in Our Stars, and sent me on a real detective adventure looking for Margo. In his debut novel, Green tells the story of the people who shine too brightly to linger in this world for too long, the guilty ones, the ones who search for meaning and understanding, ones who learn and become different.  The after part is devastating and somewhat savage in its beauty.

Overall: 5*