I finished reading a wonderful book yesterday, so wonderful that I know that for days to come I will miss the characters, as they have become part of my life.
I will miss Francie most. Francie Nolan, who at the beginning of the novel was a little girl of twelve and at the end is a woman (yes, a woman) of sixteen.
In case you haven’t guessed yet, I’m talking about an American classic: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn written by Betty Smith and published in 1943.
The story takes place in the first two decades of the 20th century and the main characters are the Nolans, a poor family that struggles but never gives up.
Even though you could say that the book has a happy ending for our main characters and that in some way they achieve the American dream, everything in between is mostly sad because of their restricted circumstances.
The sadness I mentioned in the previous paragraph, however, is mainly in the reader’s perception. I don’t think Francie is more miserable than a richer girl would have been. She knows how to enjoy the little things in life, above all reading.
The most romantic character in the story is, maybe, Johnny, Francie’s beloved father. He’s a singer and a dreamer. Unfortunately, he’s also an alcoholic.
Katie, Francie’s mother, is the voice of reason. She’s stubborn and fights to keep her family afloat.
And the most colorful person we meet in the book is Aunt Sissy with her love for men and her wild imagination.
In my opinion, Betty Smith succeeded in creating a realistic and lovable cast of characters and in bringing to life a group of people (the poor) that had no voice.
This book is not for those who want action and adventure when reading a novel. Its rhythm is gentle and lifelike, it’s full of little anecdotes and everyday stories. It’s a slice of life. But if you like good literature, unpretentious language and learning about other human beings and their feelings, do read it.
If you prefer the big screen, there’s also a 1945 film adaptation that marked the directorial debut of Elia Kazan.
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