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Contributed by Thomas Rochon on 04/07/2013
I am pleased to announce that “Brooklyn,” by the Irish novelist Colm Tóibín, has been selected for the First-Year Reading Initiative for the 2013–14 academic year. The winner of the 2009 Costa Novel Award, the book was named by the Great Britain’s “Observer” newspaper as one of the 10 best historical novels.
Brooklyn tells the story of Eilis, a young woman who emigrates to Brooklyn from her home in a small Irish town in the early 1950s. Taking a job in a department store while attending night classes in bookkeeping, she goes from deeply enmeshed in family, friends and community to a situation where she knows few people, and lives in a boarding house with a group of women with very different backgrounds.
The story offers many insights on family, tradition, the bonds of ethnicity and the process of finding one’s identity and path in the adult world. More than anything else, though, at least for me, the book is an extended meditation on the process of making a huge leap into an unfamiliar world. Eilis’s story will resonate with anyone who is about to leave home to go to college. It is beautifully written and a model of precise observation and arresting language that should inspire our students. I applaud the First-Year Reading Committee for its selection.
Tóibín is currently the Mellon Professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. Reviewers have commended him for his description of the changes in American society during the 1950s, such as the department store’s acceptance of African Americans, Long Island’s suburban boom and mixed ethnicity friendships and romances.
Incoming first-year students will receive a copy of “Brooklyn” during their visit to campus for orientation. At the beginning of the fall semester, they will attend a presentation and then participate in small-group discussions with faculty and staff volunteers who have also read the book.
I wish to thank the First Year Reading committee, chaired by Shaianne Osterrerich, for leading us to a wonderful novel as the first college level reading to be completed by the class of 2017.