Monday, December 21, 2015

Betty Smith - A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

@Harper and Brothers
+HarperCollins Publishers

Francie Nolan is the daughter of Katie and Johnny Nolan living in Brooklyn.  Her mother is a janitor and father works as a waiter/singer whenever he finds work.  It is early 1900s and times are very hard for the Nolans.  They rarely get to eat enough.  Francie and her younger brother, Neely do some scavenging work to earn a few pennies.

Little Francie has two things that help her escape from the poverty around her.  Her habit of reading books and day-dreaming.  She observes people around her with a sharp eye.  Despite the hard times, her world is rosy colored.

Katie insists on her children getting good grades in school.  She is keen on her children doing well in life.  Her mother imprinted in her mind some rules for that - Education, saving a penny or two, reading aloud daily from The Bible and Shakespeare.

Francie's father, Johnny, is a drunkard but she loves him.  He sings songs, is fun to be with, and knows just what to say to lift Francie's spirits.  He even helps enroll her in a good school by fudging their address.

The book is all about Francie's life from years Eleven to Seventeen.  It chronicles the events and various friends and family.  It is a valuable glimpse into the life of a young girl of early twentieth century.  The cultural mores were different then, as was the lifestyle.

The book is based on the life of the author, Betty Smith. It may not be a faithful record of her life, but is close enough, I suppose. There is an array of colorful characters to liven up the story.  Francie's father is a singing, sweet talking drunkard.  Her aunt, Sissy Rommely has taken a number of husbands without bothering to divorce the previous one.

Betty Smith's other book, Joy in the morning chronicles her life with her first husband whom she married when she was Eighteen.  It is a sequel to this book and it is easy to see that Ben Blake of "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" is the Carl Brown of 'Joy in the Morning".

Betty's writing is light as candyfloss and you are carried along the narrative easily.  Her characters are all standout and not to be forgotten easily.


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