• Busy Brunette

Book Review: Angela’s Ashes

Author: Frank McCourt

Published: 1999

Publisher: Scribner

Number of Pages: 368

My Rating: 5

Summary from GoodReads.com:

“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 luminous 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.

When I think about some of my favorite books, this one always tops the list. This is a book I have read many times over the years and is one of the first I pick up when I feel like rereading something.

I don’t love this book because it’s a happy story- it’s the complete opposite of that. I don’t read this book for the laughter- there is some but there are a lot more tears. I love this book because of the raw and brutal honesty Frank McCourt has in regards to his childhood and the matter-of-fact ways he looks back at it all. In no way is McCourt trying to gain sympathy from the reader or wanting us to feel sorry for him. He is simply trying to tell his story. And he has quite the story to tell.

As stated previously, this is not a happy book. In fact, I can say it might be one of the most depressing books I have ever read. It is even more heartbreaking because it is true. But you shouldn’t dismiss it and forget about it because Angela’s Ashes is also fascinating, funny, and tender. It all begins as Frank looks back on how his parents met and were married in the Depression era, not under good circumstances. The story continues through his childhood where he has to deal with extreme poverty, an alcoholic father, and numerous siblings, not to mention his family’s disadvantages due to being immigrants from Ireland.

The family goes through a lot of suffering and bad luck in New York, so they decide to move back to Ireland and start all over. Sadly, things don’t end up much better for them there. McCourt takes us through the years with his siblings, mother, and father, and reflects on all of the horrible situations they find themselves in. He also remembers hilarious incidents from his younger years, which would make me laugh out loud. I enjoyed that his memories were often told like a child would remember them- simply relating what he was experiencing even if he didn’t entirely understand it at the time.

This book is unique and special because McCourt narrates it through the eyes of his younger self, not reasoning or thinking about choices he made at the time but rather doing what he had to do in order to survive. As a young child, he was forced to take care of his siblings and fend for himself without adults around to help. He was essentially left on his own to figure out how the world worked and how to stay alive in it.

Overall, this book was fascinating as it gives you a look into the life of someone growing up in a poor Irish family during the Depression. McCourt’s writing was so strong in the fact that he was able to show things from the point of view of a child and yet still make it lyrical and mature. You will laugh and then you will cry, cry, cry. Go into it with an open mind and try it out- you will be in awe of Frank McCourt’s miserable, Irish, Catholic childhood.

-Busy Brunette

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