‘Brooklyn’ and the emigrant experience

‘Brooklyn’ and the emigrant experience

The release of the film adaptation of Brooklyn, and its nomination for three Academy Awards, certainly seems to have reinvigorated interest in the novel. With this renewed interest, claims that nothing really happens – in either the novel or the film – also resurfaced. Arguably, much does happen, it just doesn’t happen in an obvious plot-driven way. Like the protagonist, Eilis, the narrative is discreet, internally complex and deeply felt, moving unhurriedly to its tentative conclusion.

Using film adaptations to ‘lure’ students into a text is not always helpful, but experience tells me that sometimes viewing excerpts of films and hearing writers and actors discuss an adaptation can help students understand a setting that is very different in its outlook and beliefs from their own. In the case of Brooklyn, it is also wonderful to hear Tóibín speak, and to develop a better sense of how his Irish characters might also sound and think.

Even if you are not teaching Brooklyn, the websites of the two radio shows mentioned in this week’s post are still worth a visit because they have probably featured some of the writers or texts that you are currently teaching. The BBC World Service World Book Club, particularly, has featured discussions of such texts as In the Country of Men, Pride and Prejudice and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and interviews with authors such as Kate Grenville, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Margaret Atwood. BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs is also fascinating and has an archive that spans seven decades. Since 1942, the program has been asking prominent writers, thinkers, performers and public figures what music they would take with them to a desert island, and used this as the basis for a general discussion about their work, ideas and values. Curious about what Alfred Hitchcock might have thought about music in 1959? Now you can find out.

Scroll down for a content breakdown that will help you to assess if these resources are right for your school context or class, and for a free downloadable PDF of guiding questions and writing tasks. Please note that all links in the PDF will take you to third-party sites.

Best wishes and happy teaching,

Sandra Duncanson
Senior Editor

The resources

Suitability: text study Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín (Year 12 VCE English/EAL List 1)

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These resources are listed in reverse chronological order.

1. Video:Why Brooklyn should win best picture at the 2016 Oscars

Produced by: Paul MacInnes, Tom Silverstone and Ian Anderson
Source: www.guardian.com, 24 February 2016
Length: 2:51
Central ideas: initially seems quite a funny piece defending the film’s nomination for Best Film, but also offers some interesting reflections about the construction of the film as well as reflections about Eilis’ characterisation that apply to the film and the novel. This video would be an engaging introduction to early discussions of the novel and its central concerns. (After students have read the book.)
Content warnings:

2. Audio: Desert Island Discs featuring Colm Tóibín (radio show/podcast)

With: Colm Tóibín
Presented by:
Kirsty Young,
Source: BBC Radio 4, 8 January 2016
Length: 42:04
Central ideas: discusses his selections of music and the cultural legacy of music, the Irish marriage equality debate and Tóibín’s family’s acceptance of his homosexuality, winning awards, his life growing up in Enniscorthy, his interest in the effects of abandonment in his writing, the loss of his father and his attitude to writing as work.
Content warnings:
Applications: would suit flipped classroom activities.

3. Video: ‘Emigration is a potent part of the Irish psyche’ interview

With: Colm Tóibín, Saoirse Ronan and John Crowley
Produced by: and Source: theguardian.com, Central ideas: discusses the impact of emigration on Irish culture and young women, in the context of Brooklyn (film and novel).
Content warnings:

4. Audio: Colm Tóibín – Brooklyn on the BBC World Service World Book Club (radio show/podcast)

This is the oldest of the resources, but probably the most useful for your text study.

With: Colm Tóibín
Presented by:
 Harriet Gilbert
Source: BBC World Service, 8 August 2011
Length: 55:00
Central ideas: discusses the details of the novel (including how to pronounce names); Tóibín reads excerpts from the novel and answers reader questions about the inspiration, characterisation, central ideas and values.
Content warnings: –
: would suit flipped classroom activities.

©Insight Publications 2016

Bonus post: Value-laden language in the dictionary

March 7, 2016

Reflective writing: add a little humour

March 7, 2016