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Ladder Award: writer Colm Tóibín for helping us empathise with the experience of immigrants

A Ladder is awarded to Irish writer Colm Tóibín for helping us empathise with the experience of immigrants.

Colm Tóibín was interviewed by Kim Hill on Radio New Zealand (17 April 2010). In the interview he talked about his latest book called Brooklyn. It is an immigrant story about an Irish woman moving to the United States in the 1950s. Tóibín pointed out that many Irish people left Ireland to go to the United States because they couldn’t get work.

Although the story is set in the 1950s, the issues Tóibín raises about the experience of immigrants are equally relevant today.

Tóibín shows how immigrants can suffer and that their suffering is real. He says even if they have fled home and don’t want to go back, they can still be torn because there are still things about home they miss.

One way he helps us empathise with this suffering is by describing the feeling (most have felt) of being engulfed in homesickness – not knowing when or if this feeling is going to go, and often not being able to share this feeling with anyone.

Tóibín also shows how immigrants in their new home country don’t take full part in the life (at least not for a year or so) and so often end up in a vacuum where anything can happen to them – or nothing can happen.

The Ladder is for helping us empathise with immigrants, by helping us understand the suffering they can experience, reminding us what it feels like to be homesick, to miss aspects of home life, even if, like many immigrants, we’ve also desperately wanted to leave home. It also helps us appreciate the often taken for granted security of being at home in our home country, of feeling we belong, of not needing to leave.

At a time of pressure (created by diminishing resources, jobs and income) people often want to blame immigrants, especially if they don’t seem to be ‘fitting in’. It is hoped stories like this will help understanding.

Colm Tóibín will be a guest at the 2010 Auckland Writers and Readers Festival (12-16 May).

Your comments and Ladders or Shovels most welcome

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