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Every Migrant Has a Story to Tell

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23 February 2016

Emigration, identity, loss and exclusion: these are all themes award winning novelist Colm Tóibín explores in his work, and on Thursday, 11 February 2016 he paid a visit to the United Nations bookshop to talk about his novel Brooklyn, which includes many of these themes, and has now been made into an Academy Award nominated film.  

Colm Toibin visits the UN Bookshop in New York.

Brooklyn is the author’s sixth novel and tells the story of Eilis Lacey, a young woman who immigrates to the United States in the early 1950s from the small Irish town of Wexford.  She soon falls in love, but a family emergency back in Ireland forces her to make a difficult choice between the life she once knew and the promise of a happy future in her adopted homeland.  The discussion was moderated by Ramu Damodaran, chief of United Nations Academic Impact, and he and the author were joined by David Donoghue, ambassador of the Permanent Mission of Ireland to the United Nations.

Colm Toibin in conversation with UNAI Chief Ramu Damodaran and Ambassador David Donoghue of the Permanent Mission of Ireland to the United Nations.

In speaking about the characters in his book and the parallels with today’s current migration crisis, Mr.  Tóibín noted that it was important to see people as individuals because, “Everyone who comes as a migrant has a special story to tell.”

He also highlighted the important role the  United Nations could play in addressing the root causes of migration in order to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  In a perfect world, said Mr. Tóibín, we would not need passports.  

Later that evening, a screening of the film adaptation of Brooklyn took place in the Economic and Social Council Chamber at the UN and was followed by a panel discussion on large scale migration. Saoirse Ronan, the lead actress in the film who has been nominated for an Academy Award for her performance, spoke of her personal history with migration and her parents’ move to New York City from Ireland in the 1980s. “There was no work at home.  They came here to work and hopefully have a better life,” she said during the discussion.  This is a truth for many migrants who often brave treacherous journeys in search of more opportunity for themselves and their children.        

Academy Award nominated actress Saoirse Ronan at the UN for a screening of the film Brooklyn, based on the Colm Toibin novel.

Watch the webcast of the panel discussion on large scale migration here.  

To learn more about migration issues visit the International Organization for Migration website.

To learn more about the work of Colm Tóibín visit his official website.