It is Enniscorthy in the south-east of Ireland in the early 1950s. Eilis Lacey is one among many of her generation who cannot find work at home. Thus when a job is offered in America, it is clear to everyone that she must go. Leaving her family and country, Eilis heads for unfamiliar Brooklyn, and to a crowded boarding house where the landlady's intense scrutiny and the small jealousies of her fellow residents only deepen her isolation.
Slowly, however, the pain of parting is buried beneath the rhythms of her new life - days at the till in a large department store, night classes in Brooklyn College and Friday evenings on the dance floor of the parish hall - until she begins to realize that she has found a sort of happiness. As she falls in love, news comes from home that forces her back to Enniscorthy; not to the restrictions of her old life, but to new possibilities which conflict deeply with the life she has left behind in Brooklyn.
Brooklyn is a tender story of departure and return, of great love and loss, and of the terrible choice between personal freedom and duty. In the character of Eilis Colm Toibin has created a remarkable heroine, and in Brooklyn a novel of devastating emotional power.