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Jack Bodkin
Briarhill to Brooklyn
Jack Bodkin, author

Adult; General Fiction (including literary and historical); (Market)

Briarhill to Brooklyn is a work of creative nonfiction, in which I tell the story of my Irish family’s journey from Galway on a coffin ship named Cushlamachree. The family—John and Eleanor Bodkin, and seven of their children—began their journey on St. Patrick’s Day, 1848. Their destination was Brooklyn. The main characters in my book are real people—and the locations, events, and timelines are generally historically accurate. Some of the book is fact, but much of the story is fiction. The tale I tell in Briarhill to Brooklyn relates what I have imagined about my Irish ancestors’ lives between 1848 and 1902. It is fiction sewn together with places, names, and dates I have found in my research. The prologue sets the stage for the immigrants’ story, using the retrospective voice of a first-person narrator. The narrator—one of the young siblings—describes the family crowding around the table in their Briarhill cottage for a meal of potatoes boiled with a turnip and butter from a neighbor’s cow. The young storyteller recalls his mam speaking to his da: “John, for the future of our children, we must go to America.” British parliament’s role in the starvation of the Irish people is clear from the opening pages of Briarhill to Brooklyn, and you will understand the tragic conditions in famine-era Galway City as the narrator relates the startling images he encounters walking down William Street in the ancient city. The early chapters establish the novel’s several storylines, and the first half of the book is consumed by the family’s final few days in Ireland, their voyage across the Atlantic, and the Cushlamachree’s landing in Manhattan. An unimaginable hurdle confronts the family after they arrive in Brooklyn, but the siblings survive and assimilate into New York’s burgeoning and contentious melting pot. America's Civil War presents another curve in the family's path, but they persevere on their journey to freedom and opportunity.
Bodkin weaves readers through a tapestry of decades across the Atlantic and back, sharing his family’s history, struggles, and migration to America in this creative nonfiction tribute. The large Bodkin family, rooted in Briarhill, Ireland, endured many historic struggles in the mid-1800s. As The Great Famine raged on, millions starved in desolation. Heartbreaking tales pull the reader in during early chapters as Bodkin eloquently introduces family members. In one instance, loving father Séamus makes the difficult decision to take himself and toddler daughter Honora from Inis Mór to the mainland, with only the young child surviving the perilous journey. Honora, becoming Nora, proves a blessing to the Bodkin matriarch’s sister, and later joins the family on the voyage to America. As Bodkin writes, their expedition on the Cushlamachree ship was more than dangerous, punctuated with moments of hardship and love, but ultimately worth the risk for the Bodkin clan.

In a delicate yet deliberate manner, author Bodkin keeps the reader in check with the realities of the world around his family in the 19th century. War, famine, revolution, and the industrial age touch the lives of every sibling. Grounded in their Catholic faith, the Bodkin children persevered in the new world of Brooklyn, and America’s many opportunities. The figure of uncle Laurence, steadfast and dependable, proves a heartening presence in many chapters, as the bishop blesses potato patches, teaches the children botany and history, and guides the family’s transition into the New World. Bodkin brings together the family’s adult children in a solemn celebration decades later, as they recount their fond memories of the homeland.

Readers who enjoy family lineage stories will revel in this beautifully written account of the tight bonds of the Bodkins, complete with fictionalized but persuasive dialogue. Briarhill to Brooklyn keeps their traditions alive while forging ahead, extending geographies and building on their legacy.

Takeaway: The memorable account of an Irish family’s journey to America and a new life, lovingly told.

Great for fans of: James R. Barrett’s The Irish Way, Gerard R. D'Alessio’s Leaving: Three Generations of an Irish Immigrant Family.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: A
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: A