“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.”– Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
“A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” is a great American novel that is beloved by generations of Americans for the past 75+ years since its first publishing in 1943. Betty Smith’s semi-autobiographical historical fiction novel of growing up in Brooklyn in the early 1900s in a tenement house filled with other immigrant families from every country in Europe of all different cultures and backgrounds.
Her book is an exhaustive story of both the struggle and the numerous disadvantages and hardships that awaited immigrant families during this time, a pivotal time in US history, during the years leading up to World War I and a few decades into the Industrial Revolution. Her story covers the poverty of growing up in those conditions, what it was like to be a mother, a daughter, a worker, a student, and the litany of other roles to which the story’s main character, Francie Nolan was subject.
Other themes America was grappling with besides the constant prejudice and discrimination of foreigners and “the other” that we still struggle with, include health care, the education system, workers rights, politics, foreign affairs, and basic human rights.
Francie’s story was both heartbreaking and triumphant. She faces incredibly dire circumstances and slim odds of making anything of herself, and yet, her strong will and persistence proves that you can never count someone out.
I loved this book. It is probably one of the best books I have read this year. It is also an older book that is still relevant today almost 80 years after first publication. It should go down as one of the greatest books from its time period similar to Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.”
If you haven’t read this book yet, it has to be your next read. Trust me!