Eilis lives in a small Irish village in the early 1950s with her sister and widowed mother. At about twenty years old, she is unsophisticated and hadEilis lives in a small Irish village in the early 1950s with her sister and widowed mother. At about twenty years old, she is unsophisticated and had never been away from home. There are few job prospects--or marital prospects--in the village so her mother and sister give Eilis an opportunity to immigrate to America. Eilis had no great desire to leave Ireland, and she just accepts other people planning her life. She comes from a family that is placid on the surface, with little discussion of their emotions.
An Irish-American priest in Brooklyn arranges for Eilis to work in a department store, live in a boardinghouse with other Irish girls, and take night courses in bookkeeping. When she meets a handsome, cheerful, Italian man who genuinely cares for her, Eilis seems to just fall into the relationship. Their relationship and her bookkeeping courses fill her time so she feels less homesick for Ireland.
When a family tragedy occurs, Eilis is called back to Ireland. She gets into a comfortable routine with her old friends who admire her new American clothes and hairstyle, and feel her new confidence. Eilis has roots in Ireland, but now also has opportunities and obligations in America. Is she going to make her own choices, or will other people and circumstances make the choice for her? Along with the usual coming-of-age challenges, Eilis was also trying to find out where she wanted to call home.
I especially liked the author's use of local color in Ireland, on the ship crossing the Atlantic, and various places in New York such as Coney Island and a Brooklyn Dodgers game. He did a great job of imagining 1950s New York. I often wondered how many emotions Eilis was hiding below the surface and wished I could see more into her mind, especially at the end of the book. 3.5 stars....more
In 1934 Laurie Lee left his Cotswold home to walk south to see the ocean, then headed up to London. The nineteen-year-old played the violin on streetIn 1934 Laurie Lee left his Cotswold home to walk south to see the ocean, then headed up to London. The nineteen-year-old played the violin on street corners for tips, and also depended on the kindness of strangers. A professional tramp who did a yearly circuit around England taught him some of the tricks of survival on the road. Since this was during the years of economic depression, there were also many men on the road looking for work. He worked as a laborer on a construction site and lived in a rooming house for most of his time in London. Lee possessed a youthful energy, and enjoyed socializing with new acquaintances.
Lee than took a boat to northern Spain, and traversed western Spain during the heat of the summer. Although the people in many of the villages where he stopped were poor, most of them were very kind to the young Englishman. Modern times had not arrived in the small Spanish villages, and the people had close ties to the land and the sea.
The first signs of the Spanish Civil War were appearing when Lee was working at a hotel on the coast. He bonded with young people who were also impoverished--laborers and fisherman who were hoping for a better life when a leftist government came into power in 1936. War broke out between Franco's Fascist rebels and the Republican left. A British destroyer traveled down the Spanish coast picking up British subjects, including Lee, bringing them to safety. When Lee returns to England, he felt that he should help his Republican friends back in Spain. The epilogue is an exciting account of crossing the Pyrenees to reach the Spanish border.
Lee is also a poet, and his writing has a beautiful lyrical quality. He fell in love with the beauty of Spain and its passionate people. His two years on the road were an intense coming of age experience for Laurie Lee....more