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Brookland

Brookland is the remarkable story of a determined and intelligent woman in eighteenth-century Brooklyn, who is consumed by a vision of a bridge, a gargantuan construction of timber and masonry she devises to cross the East River in a single, magnificent span.

Since her girlhood, Prudence Winship has looked across the tidal straits from her home in Brooklyn to Manhattan and yearned to traverse the distance. Now, established as the owner of the enormously successful gin distillery she inherited from her father, she can begin to realize her dream. With the help of the local surveyor, Benjamin Horsfield, and her sisters”“the high-spirited, obstreperous Tem, who works with her in the distillery, and the silent, uncanny Pearl”“she fires the imaginations of the people of Brooklyn and New York, promising them both a bridge to meet their most pressing practical needs and one of the most ambitious public works ever attempted. Prue’s own life and the life of the bridge become inextricably bound together as the costs of the bridge, both financial and human, rise beyond her direst expectations.

“No historical novel in recent memory has amassed such an imposing wealth of rich period detail, and few novels of any genre extend an increasingly absorbing story to such a powerful, sorrowful conclusion. A brilliant book that should be a strong Pulitzer Prize contender.”
Kirkus Reviews on Brookland

Beautifully written and breathtaking in its scope, Brookland confirms Emily Barton’s reputation as one of the finest writers of her generation, whose work, said Thomas Pynchon, is “blessedly post-ironic, engaging and heartfelt.”

  • Publication Date: Jul 1, 2009
  • ISBN paperback: 9780312425807
  • ISBN ebook: 9781429982917

Praise for Brookland

Brookland is most obviously a historical novel, painstaking in its carefully researched and vividly imagined reconstruction of a vanished world, peopled by families with old Brooklyn names like Schermerhorn, Joralemon, and Hicks. But it is also a novel about the fragility of family ties, about ghosts””architectural as well as human””and about the sacrifices that artists are willing to make in order to fulfill their dreams…

– Christopher Benfey in the New York Review of Books

[A] magnificent epic… Barton’s second novel is a breathtaking, heartbreaking mix of gender-busting innovation and the story of decent people living enormous lives in a close family whose secrets lead to explosive tragedy. Highly recommended.

– Library Journal

. . . everything that stymies the the goal-oriented reader–unhurried essays on antique gin-distilling techniques, verbatim chunks of sermons, phalanxes of peripheral characters–makes Barton’s stately period piece . . . a treat for the rest of us. In her account of an extraordinary woman’s life in Brooklyn circa 1800, Barton has re-created the borough’s brief pastoral moment in such lavish, precise detail that I can’t think of a single recent historical novel that compares… While female detectives may exercise their faculties in contemporary thrillers, mainstream fiction heroines engrossed in challenging jobs–as opposed to challenging cads–are rare. Which makes Brookland that much more of a rare delight. Grade: A-

– Jennifer Reese in Entertainment Weekly

[A] capitvating tale . . . seamless, period-rich prose.

– Vogue

At the narrative center of Brookland, Emily Barton’s second novel, is a drawing””a sketch of the bridge that gin manufacturer Prue Winship dreams of erecting between Manhattan and Brooklyn at the dawn of the 19th century; however, it doesn’t so much depict a would-be architect’s invention as represent the fundamental need to invent in the first place. As it turns out, the willingness of its illustrator, Prue’s mute sister Pearl, to conform to Prue’s detailed specifications is finite; only too late does it become clear that Pearl has her own ideas about the way the world works, and an equally fierce capacity for expressing them. It’s not just that our creative urges define us; Brookland suggests that, even more than love, imagination makes or breaks us””or does both, even in the same moment… Barton’s gift with Brookland, as with [The] Testament [of Yves Gundron], is to immerse you gradually in a part-historical, part-mythical world.

– Ruth Tobias in the Weekly Dig

The deliberate primness of Barton’s tone – common to both “Yves Gundron” and “Brookland,” which are otherwise completely different books – makes her a strange and rare object among contemporary American writers. In a world of speed and irony and obliqueness, her unhurried gait and formal diction catch the gaze and hold it. She thinks deeply about her subjects; her imagination has unusually wide bounds; the austerity of her voice at once offers and withholds revelation.

– Lydia Millet in the Raleigh News & Observer

. . . a work of such grandeur that it evokes Tolstoy’s genius for scope and story.

– Julie Brickman in the San Diego Union-Tribune

Some young writers you just need to know about, if you care at all about fiction. Today’s subject: Emily Barton. I’ll wait while you jot that down. In 20 years, when it’s perfectly obvious to everyone that Barton is one of the great ones of her generation, please take that slip out and remember where you read the name… The result is a novel as transporting as Yves Gundron, but all the more remarkably so for being virtually without any tricks of narrative. This time, Barton’s delicately realistic prose soars alone, illuminating the shadows within a heart…You can find out for yourself if Prue’s wish is answered. Mine has been, now that Emily Barton’s second novel has arrived to fulfill the promise of her first.

– Marta Salij in the Detroit Free Press

In Brookland, Emily Barton has taken an elegant way with questions of thought-provoking substance and has made a very fine and satisfying novel. And, if there is heartbreak at its end, those hearts are broken over things that mattered then ”” and still.

– Tim Rutten in the Los Angeles Times

Strip the saga from the family saga, and history-as-pageant treatment from the historical novel, and you end up roughly in the literary terrain that Emily Barton occupies in her heartfelt new novel, Brookland . . . For Barton, history is more than costuming and period color.

– Art Winslow in the Chicago Tribune

Ms. Barton’s prose voice is as good and supple as anything being written in America today. But in its period tone (if that’s the word), it reaffirms the unswerving adage of the novel reader: Describe a world well enough and I am its member. This is the voice of a great novelist.

– David Thomson in the New York Observer

Marvelous…So much modern fiction thinks small, feels small. Emily Barton will never be accused of either…Large and complex storytelling…Brookland turns out to be a story not just of risk, daring and ambition, but of the courage to fail–and the courage to live on after failing.

– Christopher Corbett, the New York Times Book Review

Together with the book’s profound treatment of the spiritual ills born of the Enlightenment, this wonderful character is Barton’s main gift to us.

– Joan Acocella in The New Yorker

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