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The beloved American classic about a young girls coming-of-age at the turn of the century, Betty Smiths A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a poignant and moving tale filled with compassion and cruelty, laughter and heartache, crowded with life and people and incident. The story of young, sensitive, and idealistic Francie Nolan and her bittersweet formative years in the slums of Williamsburg has enchanted and inspired millions of readers for more than sixty years. By turns overwhelming, sublime, heartbreaking, and uplifting, the daily experiences of the unforgettable Nolans are raw with honesty and tenderly threaded with family connectedness -- in a work of literary art that brilliantly captures a unique time and place as well as incredibly rich moments of universal experience.


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Coffee stains form tiny trails across the cover of my copy, which goes to show how long I stayed with this book. Although written with lucid simplicity, as one would expect from a bildungsroman, I read it slowly. I savored each moment with Francie, a girl with whom I found so much in common (to say how is to tell a meandering story, for our childhoods are so different and yet so similar). Perhaps this is the appeal of this American classic, its transcendence into the psyche of each readers childhood.
She was the books she read in the library. She was the flower in the brown bowl. Part of her life was made from the tree growing rankly in the yard.

The last time I recall following a child narrator so closely, was in Frank McCourts Pulitzer-Prize-winning memoir, Angelas Ashes. The two may not have style or texture in common, but they both possess this sense of urgency that grips and pulls. While on this journey with Francie, I sensed myself on a somber ride through Williamsburg, Brooklyn; despite the bleakness, there was some humor from the sparkle of song, or from the absurdities of her drunk dads loving interactions with her. There is despair, but strength. Strength from a woman who chose to marry a man she would have to work to support on a meager salary; strength from a growing family of strong-minded, hopeful children; strength from an instinctive, immigrant grandmother.
People always think that happiness is a faraway thing, thought Francie,something complicated and hard to get. Yet, what little things can make it up; a place of shelter when it rains—a cup of strong hot coffee when youre blue; for a man, a cigarette for contentment; a book to read when youre alone—just to be with someone you love. Those things make happiness.

When a child is raised on strong, black coffee to replace a meal, you know that youve entered a different dynamic. Something is wrong when children go hungry in a resourceful nation. Something is wrong with adults who continue to introduce life into dismal environments; this is something Francies father struggles with, the idea that he doesnt think himself or his environment fit to raise children. To speak of poverty is to make some uncomfortable, so most avoid the topic. Still, as the book tore through to the core of me, it made me wonder if I dont speak of my own childhood of malnutrition and hunger because of pride. Which one brings the most guilt: surviving hunger and not returning to feed every child, or surviving and refusing to speak up about it?

Coffee stains form tiny dots across the ridges of my books pages, tinted strokes that become one with the flaws and dinginess of humanity. The guttural evocation of empathy that stems from desolation and hopelessness is one that should resonate not just with me, but with every reader who encounters the bleak, yet bliss moments of Francies coming of age in 1900s Brooklyn.


مشاهده لینک اصلی
This may well be one of the top 5 books I have ever read. It is an amazing piece of fiction & one of those books that stays with you long after youve read it.

This was Betty Smith’s first novel and it is an American classic; it was an immediate bestseller when it was published in 1943. Smith drew from her own experience growing up in Brooklyn at the turn of the twentieth century to create the character of Francie Nolan. It’s story of a young girl learning to persevere – like the tree of the book’s title – and overcome the hardships of poverty. One of the first plainly-written novels about the lives of ordinary working-class Americans, it’s beloved as a story of what it means to be human.

But A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is much more than a coming of age story. Its richly-plotted narrative of three generations in a poor but proud American family offers a detailed and unsentimental portrait of urban life at the beginning of the century. The story begins in 1912, in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, where eleven-year-old Francie Nolan and her younger brother, Neeley, are spending a Saturday collecting rags, paper, metal, rubber, and other scrap to sell to the junk man for a few pennies. Half of any money they get goes into the tin can bank that is nailed to the floor in the back corner of a closet in their tenement flat. This bank, a shared resource among everyone in the family, is returned to time and again throughout the novel, and becomes a recurring symbol of the Nolans self-reliance, struggles, and dreams.

Those dreams sustain every member of the extended Nolan family, not just the children. Their mother Katie scrubs floors and works as a janitor to provide the family with free lodging. She is the primary breadwinner because her husband Johnny, a singing waiter, is often drunk and out of work. Yet there is no dissension in the Nolan household. Katie married a charming dreamer and she accepts her fate, but she vows that things will be better for her children. Her dream is that they will go to college and that Neeley will become a doctor. Intelligent and bookish, Francie seems destined to fulfill this ambition - Neeley less so.

In spite of (or perhaps because of) her own pragmatic nature, Francie feels a stronger affinity with her neer-do-well father than with her self-sacrificing mother. In her young eyes, Johnny can make wishes come true, as when he finagles her a place in a better public school outside their neighborhood. When Johnny dies an alcohol-related death, leaving behind the two school-aged children and another on the way, Francie cannot quite believe that life can carry on as before. Somehow it does, although the familys small enough dreams need to be further curtailed. Through Katies determination, Francie and Neeley are able to graduate from the eighth grade, but thoughts of high school give way to the reality of going to work. Their jobs, which take them for the first time across the bridge into Manhattan, introduce them to a broader view of life, beyond the parochial boundaries of Williamsburg. Here Francie feels the pain of her first love affair. And with determination equal to her mothers, she finds a way to complete her education. As she heads off to college at the end of the book, Francie leaves behind the old neighborhood, but carries away in her heart the beloved Brooklyn of her childhood.

No matter your age or your status in life the rich prose A Tree Grows In Brooklyn will fuel your dreams and bring joy to your heart as you are transported to another time.

مشاهده لینک اصلی

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn is the story of Francie (Frances) Nolan growing up in the slums of Brooklyn in 1912. Over the years, it has been called a timeless classic, a description which will undoubtedly remain steadfast.

“Francie’s mother is small and pretty but steely and tough but her father is warm and charming and, above all, a prisoner of his need for drink.”* Kate, the mother, is the breadwinner of the family, clean houses for the money, which feeds, clothes and keep the family warm (when the money stretches that far). Kate favours Neeley, the son, while Johnny, the father, provides the love and understanding Francie needs. Francie is a lonely child who collects junk for pennies to help supplement the family’s income. She has no friends, her companion is Neeley (when hes around) and a beloved aunt.

She longs for school but school, when she gets there, is not the place she has imagined. It’s tough and cruel, the teachers are harsh, and Francie suffers many indignities. But it provides the outlet she requires, she learns to read and her love of reading and writing is born. It is here that she decides she will become first, a writer, then a playwright. It is at school she also learns the spitefulness of girls, and vows “I will never have a woman friend”. At the end of grade school, her beloved father’s death means that Francie must finish school and go to work; her first two jobs are factory work, followed by office work in New York; across the Brooklyn Bridge and a place Francie has always longed for. Francie’s story and that of her family’s continues well into her late teens.

Perhaps the impact of this story is that the reader, as well as Francie, says goodbye to her young self at the novel’s close. Personally, I was deflated to learn there was no sequel; I loved Francie and felt I had grown up in Brooklyn with her. I wanted more; what happened to Francie, where did she go, who did she love (if she loved), did she become a playwright. Quindlen says there is no doubt that this is a memoir, rewritten at the behest of editors, as a fictional story. So probably I do know what happened in Francie’s later life although I still wanted to read it, wanted to hear it in Francie’s words.

Anna Quindlen, in her wonderful introduction says: “It is not a showy book from a literary point of view. It’s pages are not larded with metaphor or simile or the sound of the writer’s voice in love with it’s own music. Its glory is in the clear-eyed descriptions of its scenes and people.” [ ]“This is that rare and enduring thing, a book in which, no matter what our backgrounds, we recognise ourselves.

Quindlens last sentence is so true: I found Francie’s story waking some forgotten memory in me – until that is, I reminded myself that I grew up in a upper middle-class family in Melbourne in the middle 1960s. I am pleased to find that people of all ages are still reading Smith’s wonderful novel. I think it is a story that remains relevant no matter the year or your age. It will always remain one of my most treasured reads. Thanks to Anastasia for recommending the book to me. Most Highly Recommended. 4.5★

*Quoted from Quindlen’s Introduction.


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This book has so many beautiful lines which have a lot of depth. A true classic.

مشاهده لینک اصلی
Perfect. Absolutely perfect. The only thing that could have improved my experience with this book would have been finding it fifteen years sooner. I wish twelve year-old me had known this book existed, and had been able to experience the life of Francie Nolan when we were closer to the same age. But even as an adult, I’ve found a kindred spirit in this scrappy little girl from Brooklyn, and watching her grow up and experience both heartaches and triumph was one of the most wonderful reading journeys I’ve ever embarked upon. Better late than never.

Francie and her family are incredibly poor, barely able to scrape by. Meals are sometimes scant, sometimes skipped. But in spite of hunger and cold, Francie is happy. She experiences life to the absolute fullest, wringing enjoyment from every possible source. Is she sometimes unhappy and angry and afraid? Of course. But she overcomes adversity by following doggedly in the footsteps of her mother, but with her father’s sunnier outlook on life.

Witnessing all the various ways in which Francie’s life changes, be they slow and steady changes or alterations that spring up fast enough to induce whiplash, is a study in the human condition and a child’s resilience. But what I loved most here was Francie’s intense love of words, and how that love manifests itself during different portions of her life. I have never in my life related more to a quote from a book than I did this one:

“From that time on, the world was hers for the reading. She would never be lonely again, never miss the lack of intimate friends. Books because her friends and there was one for every mood.”


I had a hard time making friends with kids my own age when I first started school. I could strike up conversations with adults and even older kids, no problem. But I didn’t relate well to people my own age. Plus, I looked kind of funny, and there’s no one in the world meaner than kids. So I submersed myself in fiction for the first five years of elementary school. Once I got braces and grew into my ears and hit puberty, I developed friendships with most of my (very small) class. But, until then, I carried a book with me onto the playground and into the cafeteria every single day. So the magic Francie found in books, I found too.

It’s hard to explain why this book impacted me so much. It’s just the story of a poor girl growing up in Brooklyn in the early 1900s. But she was so real to me. And every character I saw through her eyes was real, even with their flaws, whether those flaws were real or simply implied by Francie. She’s fictional, but I love her. I love her family and her neighbors and the character of her neighborhood itself. Betty Smith did a fantastic job showing us Francie’s life through the girl’s own eyes, instead of just telling us about it.

If you’ve never read this book, you should. It’s a classic for a reason, and it’s one I’ll be revisiting again and again. If there’s a little girl in your life who inhales books like the words they contain are oxygen, please give her a copy of this book. She’ll find a lifelong friend in France Nolan. I know I did.

For more of my reviews, as well as my own fiction and thoughts on life, check out my blog, Celestial Musings.

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