A Tree grows in Brooklyn

A Tree grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith

It's the best book I've read this year!

Warning ! Male novelists, proclaimed best novelists of all time by male critics, named in the top 10 or 20 of the best novelists, you can't match a novel like Betty Smith's A Tree grows in Brooklyn, an extraordinary story of extraordinary women from a Brooklyn family!
But because there's everything that makes an extraordinary novel in this A Tree grows in Brooklyn!
An incredible story or should I say, incredible stories that are nevertheless true, strong, poignant, raw, warm, funny, touching!
Strong, intelligent, modern, loving, human women.

An atypical and perfect writing.
The images of Brooklyn at the beginning of the 20th century are obvious to you, violent, sweet, bitter, nostalgic.
The characters are endearing. Whether they are main or secondary, the author shows their defects but also their qualities, however rare they may be, they make each life unique and indispensable.
It makes you want to read, to take charge of your life, to fight for those you love, to notice the poetry that surrounds you, to dance, to sing, to love, to live, not to lose a crumb of life!

This book talked to me so much! Mother-daughter relationships are so delicate and decisive in a life time.
This book talked to me so much! History made and written by men: endless chronologies of kings, presidents, laws, wars, until when will we accept that this is the only historical truth that has the right to be put forward? Am I me because the president of my country is a man or another? No! A hundred times, no!
I am me, on the one hand because my mother was who she was, as well as her mother and grandmother, and on the other hand because I decided to be me, at odds with my mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers, but with their mental and emotional heritage.

I find it admirable to live by following one's own path while accepting those of others. There is such tolerance in this book. But a tolerance without weakness, without self-pity, neither on oneself nor on others. That's the way to live: like the women of the Rommely family by Betty Smith!

The importance of understanding the language:
Grandmother Rommely, an Austrian married to an Austrian who is the devil himself, finds a very special way to protect her daughters from their father's violent and hurtful words. While she and her husband speak only a few words of English, she only speaks English with her daughters, even:
"She went to the public school that the three youngest girls attended and in halting English told the teacher that the children must be encouraged to speak only English; they were not to use a German word or phrase ever. In that way, she protected them against their father."

Being born a woman, according to the grandmother Mary:
"She grieved when her children had to leave school after the sixth grade and go out working. She grieved when they married no-account men. She wept when they gave birth to daughters, knowing that to be born a woman meant a life of humble hardship"

To be oneself:
"She was all of these things  (Gabrielle Dubois' note: her ancestors, her neighbourhood, the library, her brother, the tree in the courtyard...) and of something more that did not come from the Rommelys nor the Nolans, the reading, the observing, the living from day to day. It was something that had been born into her and her only-the something different from anyone else in the two families. It was what God or whatever is His equivalent puts into each soul that is given life-the one different thing such as that which makes no two fingerprints on the face of the earth alike. that came to her from her readings."

How women make men believe they are heroes:
Katie's giving birth to Francie. Forty-eight hours of work, pain, tears, heartbreaking cries, fatigue, strength. Johnny, her husband, cannot bear more than a few hours of his wife's suffering. So he leaves home, gets drunk and sleeps at his mother's house to be pampered like a child. When he returns, twelve hours after the birth of the child.
"She had had the pain; it had been like being boiled alive in scalding oil and not being able to die to get free of it. She had had the pain. Dear God! Wasn't that enough? Why did he have to suffer? He wasn't put together for suffering but she was. She had borne a child but two hours ago. She was so weak that she couldn't lift her head an inch from the pillow, yet it was she who comforted him and told him not to worry, that she would take care of him.
Johnny began to feel better. He told her that after all it was nothing; that he had learned that a
lot of husbands had been "through the mill."
"I've been through the mill, now, too," he said. "And now I'm a man." "

Clairvoyance and obscurantism:
If women had not been taught that they needed a husband, Katie would have only had to worry about her child. With the help of her mother and sisters, she would have done very well. Yet her own mother put in her head, like mine, that women were there to take care of men and even to excuse rapists!
Despite this, it is the grandmother who, after the birth of her granddaughter, will give her daughter the key to raise her child, that is, to educate her and raise her above their own condition. It is admirable, this innate notion of what is right and of dignity. See the dialogue between Katie and Mary Rommely after Francie's birth.

Oh, my God! This review is already too long, I have to stop there. Yet there are so many other things to say about this remarkable book!
Like the discussion about politics between Katie and Johnny, chapter XXIV. Of course, I agree with Katie 100%!
Like the discussion between Francie and her father about the free cabs, chapter XXV. Now, I agree with Johnny: French people, a word to the wise!
I recognized myself in Francie at the end of Chapter XXVI.
And the thought about the importance of education by Katie in chapter XXVII, a true gem!
And the men's words at the bar chapter XLI! These confident men say they deserve a few beers after work! And what are their wives doing in the meantime? Oh ! three times nothing... They work in factories or do households, clean, cook, take care of children... it’s so few, why would they deserve to relax at the bar over a good beer?
And in chapter XLVIII, this beautiful desire to live of the teenager Francie, this healthy desire to be aware of living:
"Dear God," she prayed, "let me be something every minute of every hour of my life. Let me be
gay; let me be sad. Let me be cold; let me be warm. Let me be hungry ... have too much to eat.
Let me be ragged or well dressed. Let me be sincere-be deceitful. Let me be truthful; let me be
a liar. Let me be honorable and let me sin. Only let me be something every blessed minute. And
when I sleep, let me dream all the time so that not one little piece of living is ever lost."
One thing is for sure, my time wasn't wasted reading Betty Smith!

Gabrielle Dubois©


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