“People always think that happiness is a faraway thing, something complicated and hard to get. Yet, what little things can make it up; a place of shelter when it rains - a cup of strong hot coffee when you're blue; for a man, a cigarette for contentment; a book to read when you're alone - just to be with someone you love. Those things make happiness.”
And that is what this quite-a-chunkster book speaks about. The main idea is rather cliché; that happiness is a universal feeling; that every human being can feel it if they choose to; that happiness is about the way of viewing things around you; that happiness can be fight for. Betty Smith teaches us to live a happy life through her own experiences, which she wove into this book: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.
A tree—a very strong tree indeed—grew alone in the building’s yard where the Nolans lives in poverty in Brooklyn. However, despite of the lack of means with which trees should have had to grow—it has even been felled once—it managed to survive and kept growing, while the others died. So it is in life, there’s always one kind of human race who could not easily be destroyed by hardship or poverty; these rarely human beings kept growing amidst the very limited chance. Francie Nolan is one of these kinds.
This book actually tells the lives and struggles of three generations of the Rommely’s women. It started from Mary Rommely—the grandmother—who immigrated to America with her useless but abusive husband. She couldn’t read not write in English but insisted that her children must be better than her. She also taught her daughters to save every penny they can save, and to use it to buy their own land. Mary practiced it herself, worked hard all her life, but she died poorly still.
Now Katie Rommely seemed to follow her mother’s step by marrying a useless but charming man: Johnny Nolan. Although she could at least read in English, she was nevertheless uneducated, again, because of the poverty. However, following her mother’s advice, she and Johnny worked hard to give highest education possible to their children: Neely and Francie Nolan. Now here is the resemblance of Francie and the strong-built Tree of Heaven. Throughout the story, you would be taken to witness how Francie strove from the poverty, the loneliness of being unique, and the strong need of love.
In many ordinary people, they would not make it better than the others, but Francie had her own way of going through all the hard times. She knows how to see the beauty of everything, and so she could always make herself happy. She could adapt to whatever there is around her. For instance, she knew her mother loved Neely more than her; it was a bitter fact for a child, yet she could endure it and still, at least, gave her mother a proper love and respect. In a way, her ‘dreamy’ father had a contribution to Francie’s imagination quality, and fortunately, she also inherited her mother’s toughness and practical way of living. With all these, Francie became the first of the Rommelys who could go to college and had a decent career.
In fact, there is nothing very special in this book. The story is flat and slow, there is no twist or complex conflict. It is just about uninteresting life of a family. But from their struggles, their mistakes, and their imperfectness, we can learn a lot of things. We can learn that being poor doesn’t mean we can’t have dignity. And the most important lesson I got from this book is that happiness is not about what we have, but how we see everything we have. With that, there is no reason why we cannot all be happy, in the end it’s just about the way of thinking, anyway. Be always grateful for whatever you have!
Four stars for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, it’s a kind of book you must chew slowly to get its best.
*I read Indonesian translation edition from Gramedia Pustaka Utama*
*This book is counted as:*
9th book for Historical Fiction Challenge 2013 -2015
11th book for New Authors Reading Challenge 2013
7th book for Read Big! Reading Challenge
58th book for The Classics Club Project