Thursday, July 10, 2008

Book Review: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

This is a semi-fictional memoir of a young woman who grew up in Brooklyn at the turn of the 20th century. The author manages to sandwich sweet vignettes between the tangy and the tart. Life was hard in the city in those days; yet the main character shows no sign of self pity. Rather, the difficulties make her become like the "trash tree" that stubbornly grows through the cracks in the city concrete. This becomes the symbol of her life, and the title of the book.

One thing I found particularly fascinating was the contrast between Francie (main character) and her mother and Grandmother. Though the Grandmother was illiterate, she was sagacious and able to pass on gems of wisdom orally to Francie's mother. The mother had only a 6th grade education, and had to do menial labor to scrape a living. She wanted a better life for her daughter and came to the Grandmother for advice.

Here are some of Francie's Grandmother's gems of wisdom:

"Mother, I am young. Mother, I am just eighteen. I am strong. I will work hard, Mother, But I do not want this child to grow up just to work hard. What must I do, Mother, what must I do to make a different world for her? How do I start?"

"The secret lies in the reading and the writing. You are able to read. Every day you must read one page from some good book to your child. Every day this must be until the child learns to read. The she must read every day, I know this is the secret."


"What is a good book?"


"The Protestant Bible and Shakespeare."

"And you must tell the child the legends I told you--as my mother told them to me and her mother to her. You must tell the fairy tales of the old country. You must tell of those not of the earth who live forever in the hearts of people--fairies, elves, dwarfs and such. You must tell of the great ghosts that haunted your father's people and of the evil eye which a hex put on your aunt. You must teach the child of the signs that come to the women of our family when there is trouble and death to be. And the child must believe in the Lord God and Jesus, His Only Son."


"In teaching your child, do not forget that suffering is good too. It makes a person rich in character."

"If that is so," commented Katie bitterly, then we Rommelys are rich."

"We are poor, yes. We suffer. Our way is very hard. But we are better people because we know of the things I have told you. I could not read but I told you of all of the things I learned from living. You must tell them to your child and add on to them such things as you will learn as you grow older."

I thought this was fascinating because today so much of what is learned about child rearing is learned from books. Books are wonderful, but in some ways they are a poor replacement for that firsthand connection between the generations. The old Grandmother in this story proved to be prophetic in her words. Little Francie grew up to be a writer and was the first in her family to break free of the bondage of hard manual labor.

A bittersweet and poignant read~~very worthwhile.

1 comment:

Joyful Days said...

Great review!This is a book I come back to every few years or so. That is a particularly favorite passage of mine. It has stayed with me since I read it first in my early teens.

Have a wonderful weekend!