I read a lot of books. I love books. I have always loved books. At the moment there are easily a dozen books in my living room, in various stages of receiving attention. I have just started learning about astrology so there are several books on that. There’s a book about angels, lent to me by a friend. There are lots of books but not many novels. I don’t read many novels. But the book which is getting most of my attention at the moment is “A Tree Grows In Brooklyn” by Betty Smith, which is a novel.
This is a lovely book so I’m writing about it. I think it was quite well known at one time because I have heard of it before but never read it. It was published in 1943. It’s about the immigrant population in Brooklyn at the beginning of the 19th century, before the First World War, and is really social history made into a novel. It’s written mostly from the point of view of a young girl called Francie Nolan. Her father is Irish and her mother is from somewhere in Eastern Europe. She is a sensitive and intelligent child, also rather isolated and lonely and as she observes the world around her we learn about her life and the lives of her family and the people in the neighbourhood.
Maybe Betty Smith is writing about her own childhood. There is extraordinary detail in the minutiae of ordinary life. There is also an acceptance of how things are – the poverty and harshness of their lives, her father’s alcoholism and feelings of inadequacy coupled with his gentleness and love towards her. Her mother is the one who takes responsibility and who copes, and works, works, works, to keep them all together with a roof over their heads and a minimum amount of food in their stomachs. And it is a minimum; they are often hungry.
We are now more than a hundred years on from that time. There are things that spring out from the pages – the strength of the family unit is one. It’s not clear what the old country they have come from is, but wherever it is they are peasants there and America in any form is an improvement. They see it as a land of opportunity, freedom and, most of all, hope.
A strong sense of loyalty to the community also springs out, especially in comparison to the community that we no longer have today. Also compassion, understanding and gentleness. There is no feeling of hierachy because everyone is struggling, just like the tree in the book title. Everyone has a place, the old as well as the young.
There are two good second hand bookshops where I live and I got it through one of them. I think the copy I have is a proof-reader’s copy and the pages are slightly ragged, not clean cut as for a bookshop sale. It’s a hardback with small print and it’s very old and it’s a real book. No Kindle for me thank you.
I recommend it. It’s good reading for baby-boomers and for everyone else too. It’s also very salutary: we are having quite tough times but really we should be so grateful for what we have. Most of us have a roof over our heads, food in the fridge (and the fridge itself!) and a comfortable bed to sleep in. Too many people in the world don’t have these basics.