September 5, 2019

Book Review - Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt


Angela's Ashes

by Frank McCourt

Genres: Nonfiction, Memoir, Irish History
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Length: 452 pages
Published: October 3, 2005 (first published September 5, 1996)
Purchase Links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

My Goodreads Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Official Book Summary:

"Imbued on every page with Frank McCourt's astounding humor and compassion. This is a glorious book that bears all the marks of a classic.

"When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I managed to survive at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood."

So begins the Pulitzer Prize winning memoir of Frank McCourt, born in Depression-era Brooklyn to recent Irish immigrants and raised in the slums of Limerick, Ireland. Frank's mother, Angela, has no money to feed the children since Frank's father, Malachy, rarely works, and when he does he drinks his wages. Yet Malachy-- exasperating, irresponsible and beguiling-- does nurture in Frank an appetite for the one thing he can provide: a story. Frank lives for his father's tales of Cuchulain, who saved Ireland, and of the Angel on the Seventh Step, who brings his mother babies.

Perhaps it is story that accounts for Frank's survival. Wearing rags for diapers, begging a pig's head for Christmas dinner and gathering coal from the roadside to light a fire, Frank endures poverty, near-starvation and the casual cruelty of relatives and neighbors--yet lives to tell his tale with eloquence, exuberance and remarkable forgiveness.

Angela's Ashes, imbued on every page with Frank McCourt's astounding humor and compassion, is a glorious book that bears all the marks of a classic."

Quote:

"You might be poor, your shoes might be broken, but your mind is a palace."


Excerpt (from Chapter One):

"My father and mother should have stayed in New York where they met and married and where I was born. Instead, they returned to Ireland when I was four, my brother, Malachy, three, the twins, Oliver and Eugene, barely one, and my sister, Margaret, dead and gone.

When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I survived at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet the miserable Irish Catholic childhood."

My Book Review:

Reading the first two-thirds of Angela's Ashes is a five-star experience.

Listening to the audiobook and McCourt’s Irish accent as he tells the story of the heartbreaking poverty of his childhood growing up in Limerick, Ireland is so memorable. I was floored by the pain he went through: the hunger, the grief, the uncertainty, and the burden of his helpless situation. McCourt excels as recreating the setting and emotions of his painful coming-of-age. He experiences the deaths of siblings, his mother’s ill health and depression, Irish Catholic guilt, cruel schoolmasters, deadly illness, untreated chronic infections, and worst of all, an alcoholic father who is unreliable and increasingly absent. All of this is told in a very strong, powerful voice. I cannot recommend this section of the book strongly enough.

Sadly, however, the last third of the memoir is a disappointment. McCourt focuses on repeated and unnecessarily crude sexual content to describe his experience of puberty when what lies at the heart of his coming-of-age is his religious crisis of faith. Had he shifted frameworks and further explored how he reconciled his pain with his cultural heritage, I would have been on board. That not fully being the case, I was left wishing the book had ended a couple hundred pages earlier.

Overall, McCourt's memoir is amazingly powerful, but be warned about some of this concluding content.

1 comment :

  1. I actually just found my copy in my basement while looking for something to read. Really curious about this book. Too bad the his sexual exploits was done rather gratuitously. Bummer.

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