Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

by Betty Smith

Thumbs Up

In this first person narrative Francie Nolan tells of her growing up years in Brooklyn, NY, during the early part of the 20 century among a cast of colorful characters. The book is well crafted, and a reader comes to love the characters, flaws and all.

This is an excellent historical fiction. It led me to a fuller historical appreciation of the multi-textured community of immigrant Brooklyn at that time; and it helped to to place historical events and conditions more accurately in my mental framework of American history. The later part of the book takes place during the years leading up to and including World War I.

It does however, have a sadness to it. As I said, the characters are not flawless. They live in very poor conditions. The descriptions of the school setting in which Francie starts her school years is especially heartbreaking to me.

All in all, though, I see the story of the American spirit coming through. These peoples from all over the world come here for a better life. They at first live in hard times. We see and hear about the baby steps each generation makes in achieving what we call the American Dream. And as realistic historical fiction often does, it ought to prick the conscience of many of us who all to easily complain of our current economic hardships.

The book was published in 1943 and was a huge success. It seems somewhat little known these days. I wonder if that is because of political correctness and the forced silences imposed by our current cultural sensitivities. The book certainly shows people for what they are, which is not always nice. And it certainly shows racial and social prejudices that were alive during the period it depicts. It is a quite lengthy book and I would say the action is slow. So perhaps it does not fit into our "instant gratification" lifestyle.

Since I"m a homeschooling mom, I have to add the following. The book is fairly clean, although there are some things alluded to that fall into more mature themes. But it would be a good choice for an older child. Sonlight Curriculm uses it for their high school level 20th Century History course.

One more little aside, this book is apparently considered a bildungrsroman, or a teaching novel. I had never heard the term, so I did a little reading on it. I guess that makes it educational in the literary sense, too...

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