Brooklyn: First-Year Reading Initiative 2013

Colm Toibin & Brooklyn

Irish Names: Trippingly on the Tongue

     Mr. Toibin's name is pronounced CUL-um toe-BEAN.  The best recording I've found on the Web is here
     The name of the central character in Brooklyn, Eilis, is pronounced EYE-lish. Here's a recording.
      Enniscorthy should be accented on the thrid syllable: ennis-COR-thy. Here's a recording.

Colm Toibin: Articles

IC Library database articles require log-in (IC e-mail user name/password)
  • Reviews & Interviews
"The Writing Life"  (Colm Toibin--his reflections on writing Brooklyn in The Wasington Post, 2009)

"His Irish Diaspora: The Novels of Colm Toibin--Including his Latest Set in Brooklyn--are all about Searching for Home."  (Alex Witchel in New York Times Magazine, 2009)

"The Reluctant Emigrant"  (Liesl Schillinger in The New York Times Book Review, 2009)

"You Can Take the Man Out of Ireland . . ." (Robert McCrum interviews Toibin about Brooklyn in The Guardian, 2009)

"The Coldest Place on Earth"  (Liam McIlvanney in The London Review of Books, 2009)  [This is a free Web link into LRB, so I'm not sure how stable it will prove.]

"Home is Where the Heart Is"  (Sebastian Smee in The Spectator, 2009)  

"Ordinary People"  (Denis Kehoe in Gay Community News [Dublin], 2009)

"An Interview with Colm Toibin."  (Joseph Wiesen in Contemporary Literature, 2009)

"Colm Toibin: 'You Just Have to Go Wherever Things Take You.'"  (Sussana Rustin in The Guardian, 2010)  

Guardian Book Club: Brooklyn: Week One; Week Two; Week Three; Week Four.  (John Mullin in The Guardian, 2010)

"Across Two Worlds: The Contradictory Colm Toibin."  (John Preston in The Sunday Telegraph, 2010)

"Touched By Time"  (Benjamin Markovits in New Statesman, 2009)

"Edging Toward Hysteria" (Peter Pierce in The Australian, 2009)

"The Emigrant"  (Kevin Rabalais in Weekend Australian, 2009)

"Intercontinental Drift"  (Annabel Lyon in The Globe and Mail, 2009)

"Colm Toibin: Interview"  (Malcolm Knox in Canberra Times, 2010)

"Colm Toibin: A Profile"  (Stacey D'Erasmo in Ploughshares, 2011)

"Colm Toibin: 'You Have to be a Terrible Monster to Write'"  (Nigel Farndale in The Telegraph, 2012)

Colm Toibin Reflects on Dublin"  (Henry C. Krempels in Newsweek, 2013)
  • Criticism
"Colm Toibin's 'As Though' Reality in Mothers and Sons, Brooklyn, and The Empty Family." 
(Edward A Hagen in New Hibernia Review, 2012)

"Home and Belonging among Irish Migrants: Transnational versus Place Identities in The Light of Evening and Brooklyn: A Novel."  (Eve Walsh Stoddard in Eire-Ireland: A Journal of Irish Studies, 2012) 

"Abstract Homes: Deterritorialisation and Reterritorialisation in the Work of Colm Toibin."  (Ryan Matthew in Irish Studies Review, 2008)  [Pre-Brooklyn, but thematically relevant]

"'The Endless Mutation of the Shore': Colm Toibin's Marine Imagery."  (Liam Harte in Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction, 2010)  [Brooklyn not discussed, but continues the "marine imagery."]

Colm Toibin on YouTube

Interview with Colm Toibin about Brooklyn for the Sydney Writers' Festival, 2010.

Colm Toibin in Conversation for Sydney Wrtiers' Festival, 2010.

Colm Toibin interviewed about Brooklyn for U. of Warwick TV, 2010. Part One & Part Two

Colm Toibin reads from Brooklyn (Melborne, Australia)  

Colm Toibin Q & A for Ploughshares, 2011.

Colm Toibin speaks at East Carolina University, 2011.

Colm Toibin interviewed on The Writing Life, 2012.

Irish Voices: A Reading and Conversation with Colm Toibin, moderated by Christopher Ricks (at Boston University, February 28th 2013)  [The subject is Tobin's last book The Testament of Mary]

Colum Toibin on the writing process, Toronto 2008.

Colm Tobin interviewed about being a gay writer (for Pink Triangle Press), 2008.

Colm Toibin on the Web

Colm Toibin: His Website

Colm Toibin's Keynote Address to faculty and students at Baruch College, where Brooklyn was the Freshman Reading selection for 2012-13.  Video.

Colm Toibin: Brooklyn  (BBC Radio interview: 55 minutes)

"Rethinking the American Saga in Brooklyn" (print/audio feature from NPR Books) 

Colm Toibin Meets the Guardian Book Club: Brooklyn  (30 minute podcast)

An Interview with Colm Toibin: Brooklyn  (Bookslut Web magazine)

Colm Toibin: Reflections on Austen (Video of Toibin discussing Pride and Prejudice and its relation to Brooklyn)

Writers' Rooms: Colm Toibin (illustrated Guardian feature)

IC Library Databases (Articles)

Signs of the Time

     Although no dates are cited in Brooklyn, Eilis and Tony see Singin' in the Rain when it opens, identifying the year as 1952 and the span of the novel as approximately 1952-3.  In some databases, such as the Library catalog, you will find a subject heading for the decade of the fifties, but elsewhere you are faced with the question of what search terms will target articles about that era.  The best Keyword solution is a Boolean search phrase OR-ing together likely alternatives and grouping them in parentheses: (1950s or 50s or fifties or "nineteen-fifties"). But even this strategy may retrieve articles where the topic turns out to be, for instance, people in their 50s.

America: History and Life

    America: History and Life : For 50s research this database is invaluable because it is the only one which allows you to set a "Historical Period" limit to your search (below the search slots on the left).  If you set this for 1945-1959, for example, then the articles retrieved for whatever search terms you enter will focus on how that topic played out in in post-war America.  But: be aware that setting a Period limit of 1945-1959 will also retrieve any Period that contains this date span. So, for instance, if your topic is immigration or segregation in the 50s, articles surveying these topics from 1900 to 2000 will be also be retrieved.
     Be sure to set the "Document Type" limit to "Article" to weed out all the many, many book reviews that will otherwise clot your search for articles.
     Having set the Period and Article limits, a good way to begin with this database is to open "Indexes" above the search slots and select the "Subject Terms" index, where you can check to see if there is a good Subject Heading for your topic--for example, "Irish Americans."
     There's a good deal of full text here, but where there isn't be sure to use the "FindIt" links below citations to see if the full text can be supplied by another of IC's databases.

Primary Source Databases

     Most of our databases give you access to articles from the past 3-4 decades, but few can retrieve full text from before the 70s.  Below are four exceptions that can retrieve full text from the 50s--allowing you a contemporary perspective on issues and events of that decade.

     New York Times (1851-2009) : For New York in the 1950s this is an essential full-text resource. The default search field is "Anywhere," which for a Keyword search of full text can bury you in results, some mentioning your search terms only in passing.  I recommend beginning with either the "Anywhere except full text" or the "Abstract" fields, since these are more likely to return articles that truly focus on your topic.  If the results from these searches are too scanty, then you can broaden the scope to Anywhere.
     Use the "date range" limits to target the primary sources available here--contemporary/eyewitness reports. Without a date range limit you may retrieve hundreds of articles written decades after the events they discuss. For example, a search on "Jackie Robinson" with a date range limit of 1946-1953 will target all the NYT's original coverage of the first African American to play major league baseball.
     But note: when searching for materials from earlier eras, be aware that language changes over time. For example, the term "African American" was not used prior to the 1970s, so when searching for articles on race relations in America during the 1950s, the terms "Negroes" or "Blacks" or even "colored" will be needed to retrieve relevant stories.

      JSTOR : covers a wide range of scholarly journals in most disciiplines, always beginning with the first issue of each one.  This provides 100% full text access to articles from not only the first half of the 20th century but even the second half of the 19th.  Be aware, however, that at the other end of the date range articles don't appear in JSTOR until at least 1-2 years after publication.
    Given the depth of JSTOR's archive, you can use its "Date Range" limit to target, say, 1945-1959 and access articles written on a topic during the post-war/fifties era.
   User Advisory: The academic journals covered here feature numerous book reviews, so it's a good idea to tic the "Article" limit below the search slots so you won't be overwhelmed by book reviews on your topic.  
     Facts on File World News Digest is a database of news wire articles, so don't expect depth of coverage here.  But its archives do extend back to 1940, so it's easy to browse the top stories from the era when Brooklyn is set.  And note: this database allows you to scan headlines decade by decade, including 1950-1959.

     may also be of interest if you wish to explore immigrant experience in a broad historical context.  The date range of full-text materials here is 1800-1950, but be aware that for Irish immigrants there are few documents beyond the 1920s.

MLA International Bibliography

     MLA International Bibliography  is our best database for researching Brooklyn, Colm Toibin, and contemporary Irish literature. Take full advantage of the "Search Options" just below the standard entry slots, since these offer Subject searching on both the Author and the Author's Work.  For the full range of search fields available here, open the drop-down menu to the right of the "Anywhere" default search field.  Also note the "Source Type" limits you can set, so that, for instance, you can target just "Journal Articles."

Databases As Needed

     Which other IC Library databases will best support any research you do in connection with Brooklyn will vary with your topic, but a good place to start may be three of our largest, comprehensive databases:
     The relevance of our many discipline-specific databases will depend on your topic.  For example, you might use PsycINFO to explore identity or assimilation problems in the immigrant experience, SocINDEX with Full Text to learn about social, class, or gender issues of the period, ATLA religion database with ATLASerials to read more about the Catholic Church in America and its role in immigrant communities, or SPORTDiscus with Full Text to explore Baseball's past and the process of its racial integration.

Web Resources

Selected Sites


2013 Schedule of Events

Prep Session for Faculty
  • When: Friday August 23rd, 10-11:30 am
  • Where: Klingenstein Lounge
Group Discussion for Students:
  • When: Tuesday August 27th, 10 am-noon
  • Where: A&E Center

IC Library Resources

   Below are books from the IC Library collection--hard copy or online--arranged thematically to document and discuss the social/cultural context of Toibin's novel.
      ebooks require IC email log-in.

Immigrants, Ethnicity & Race


Life in the 50s

     An excellent way to orient yourself to life in 50s would be to browse Life in the 50s.  Life was the quintessential middle American magazine of the post-war era and offers a weekly photographic record of the period.  The IC Library has bound original copies of Life for 1937-1972.  They are shelved on the 4th floor of the Library, Towers side, at the end opposite the Whalen Center for Music. Call no. AP2 .L58.

Contact Us

picture of Dr. Brian Saunders

Dr. Brian Saunders

Humanities Librarian
(607) 274-1198