A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Let’s do the time warp back to the early months of ’12, ‘cuz I read lots of stuff…review backlog, commence!

View from this book:

Spring Break ’12: on the plane en route to Singapore.

The book:

Well… it’s a classic, which is about all I can say for it.  In my quest to finally get through a stack of books someone should have made me read earlier in life, it finally fell time to tackle this one.  Anna Quindlen wrote a rather apt foreword for the book, making remarks like, “It is not a showy book from a literary point of view,” which I wholeheartedly agree with.  Honestly, there’s not much showy about it at all.  The writing is tepid, the story is incredibly simplistic, and I’m not sure I could have withstood much more of this book’s pounding its morals into the poor reader (me).  If I hadn’t been in a metal/plastic tube hurtling through the air at 35,000 feet, trapped between the window and a talkative seatmate, I’d have chucked this book out and gone to watch Mad Men.

That said, I feel like I should at least say a few positive things about this book, since I made it through to the end, and it is a classic for a reason.  This book was revolutionary for its time.  Smith’s depiction of her childhood Brooklyn, full of poverty, misogyny, and corruption, is a powerful reminder that America’s favorite immigrant narrative (rags-to-riches, land of opportunity, yadda yadda) glosses over the fact that many 1st– and 2nd– generation immigrants were faced with brutal, short lives.  Institutional racism hasn’t gone anywhere, and if we keep telling ourselves that today’s immigrants should just buck up and work harder, then we are simply perpetuating the cycle of condemning generations of people to being second-class citizens.  5 out of 10. 

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn


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