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The Lost Child of Philomena Lee: A Mother, Her Son and A Fifty-Year Search [Paperback]

by Martin Sixsmith
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (148 customer reviews)

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Book Description

October 4, 2009 0230744273 978-0230744271
When she fell pregnant as a teenager in Ireland in 1952, Philomena Lee was sent to the convent of Roscrea, Co. Limerick, to be looked after as a fallen woman' and at the age of three her baby was whisked away and sold' to America for adoption. Coerced into signing a document promising Never to Seek to Know' what the Church did with him, she never saw him again. She would spend the next fifty years searching for her son, unaware that he spent his life searching for her. Philomena's son, renamed Michael Hess, grew up to be a top lawyer and then a Republican politician in the first Bush administration. But he was also gay and in 1980s Washington being out and proud was not an option. He not only had to conceal not only his sexuality, but, eventually, the fact that he had AIDs. With little time left, he returned to Ireland and the convent in which he was born to plead with the nuns to tell him who his mother was, so that he might see her before he died. They refused. The Lost Child of Philomena Lee is the story of a mother and a son, whose lives were blighted by the forces of hypocrisy on both sides of the Atlantic and of the secrets they were forced to keep. A compelling narrative of human love and loss, Martin Sixsmith's moving account is both heartbreaking yet ultimately redemptive.

Editorial Reviews


“The extraordinary story of an extraordinary woman . . . Philomena’s tale is special. . . . It reveals a remarkable human being with astonishing fortitude and a truly humbling willingness to forgive. . . . I hope Philomena’s heroic search and her courage in allowing her story to be told will bring comfort to all who have suffered a similar fate.” —Judi Dench, from the Foreword

“A searingly poignant account of forced adoption and its consequences.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Riveting . . . Sixsmith chillingly recounts . . . this mother-and-son saga.” —Publishers Weekly

“Emotionally compelling.” —Library Journal

“A powerful testament to the strength of the bond between mother and child.” —Shelf Awareness

“Heartbreaking . . . a story that needed to be told.” —The Independent

“Delves into a woman’s grief with restraint and sensitivity.” Independent on Sunday

“The touching story of a mother’s fifty-year search for her son.” Sunday Times (London)
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Martin Sixsmith was born in Cheshire and educated at Oxford, Harvard and the Sorbonne. From 1980 to 1997 he worked for the BBC, as the Corporation's correspondent in Moscow, Washington, Brussels and Warsaw. From 1997 to 2002 he worked for the British Government as Director of Communications. He is now a writer, presenter and journalist. His previous books are The Litvinenko File, Moscow Coup: The Death of the Soviet System and two novels, Spin and I Heard Lenin Laugh.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 452 pages
  • Publisher: Macmillan (October 4, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0230744273
  • ISBN-13: 978-0230744271
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (148 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #904,986 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
245 of 265 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Different book? November 27, 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I just finished reading the 18 reader reviews of "The Lost Child of Philomena", before writing my own review of the book. And I can't figure out if everybody reviewing this book read the same book. About half of the reviewers referred to the book as mostly about Philomena, an Irish "Magdalene", torn apart from her child after raising him for three years in a home for unwed mothers in Ireland. The others appeared to have read a different book -and the same one I read - which is mostly about the child, Michael Hess, who was adopted by an American couple in the mid-1950's. The story is mostly about HIS life in the US and his growing up with the angst that adopted children sometimes have about their origins, as well as his coming to terms about his sexuality and life in college and law school and life in Washington DC as an official at the Reagen and HW Bush administrations and then at the Republican National Committee. Only at the end were Martin Sixsmith and Philomena brought back into the story.

Okay, that's not a problem for the purchaser and reader of the book, now retitled "Philomena: A Mother, A Son, and A 50 Year Search", as long as s/he knows in advance that's NOT what the book is about. This book is about 75% about Michael, his life, and his family - which IS very interesting - and about 25% about Irish shaming of young pregnant women, the eventual "selling" of their babies, and Philomena's search for her given-up child. I am going to see the movie, starring Dame Judi Dench this weekend, and I'll bet that the movie is more about Philomena than her child.

I point this out because the movie marketers seem to have taken a book - more about the son - and turned it around and made the movie more about the mother, and then tried to rebrand the book to align with the movie.
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116 of 125 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening and frustrating but so well done April 18, 2011
By jocelyn
Philomena Lee represents thousands of women who might otherwise have lived fruitful lives and their children might have otherwise given Ireland educators, musicians, scientists, doctors, writers, productive happy people. The Catholic Church took all that away from its own country that supported it and was too loyal. The nuns and priests again were above the law, and were responsible for many innocent people living through tortuous frustration, thinking they had done something wrong, they were being punishes for their "sins." Young Michael/Andrew has memories of his mother, but feels as though he never belonged anywhere. His life may have been much different had the nuns at the Abbey treated Philomena with humaneness and respect, and maybe just a little love for God's "image and likeness." This search for the son and mother was well researched and very well written. I couldn't leave the book alone. I had to remind myself often that this is a true story. I could picture the roads in that part of Ireland and the old ruins since I've recently been to Tipperary. Now I want to return just to see the places Martin Sixsmith writes about. I also need to research some of the Nixon-Reagan years as this will help me understand how Michael lived during those conservative, stringent times. The photographs in the book are impressive. Thank you, Mr. Sixsmith, for including them.

I have recommended this book to many people. This needs to be known!
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94 of 105 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lost Child of Philomena Lee June 5, 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The adoption process run in Ireland by Catholic Authorities sold children for money, without regard for the women and their children, effectively exploiting Mothers and their children whose lives were forever affected by the inhumane deception and cruelty - State & Church benefited financially. Secrecy, lies and illegal practices were the order of the day at Sean Ross Abbey fully supported by strong political governmental connections.

"The Lost Child of Philomena Lee" by Michael Sixsmith is a tragically true story. At first I hesitated to buy it, 451 pages long, but once I started to read I couldn't put it down. Mike/Anthony Lee searched for years. He felt a strong connection with his Irish roots and hoped one day his Mother, Philomena Lee, might find him.

Women victims in these Prison type Religious Institutions served as slaves and used to breast feed their children (cost saving for the Convent) and then when no longer needed thrown out without any guidance, counseling or meaningful support, which made way for more inmates. It's a wonder that any of these women and their children survived.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compulsive reading October 3, 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I found this book gripping, but desperately sad. I feel so sorry for all these women who were appallingly treated by the Catholic Church in Ireland (and in other countries). I can only hope that Philomena felt in some measure that her search had been worthwhile.
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33 of 42 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars One half of a real horror story. November 19, 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is one heck of story. Martin Sixsmith, in somewhat pedestrian style, tells the tale of the boy's situation, rather than the mother's. It's a tale that migrates, through an almost unbelievably cruel practice of the Catholic Church, in which unmarried mothers were pressured to relinquish the rights to their illegitimate children, to America, where well-heeled 'benefactors' gave them a 'good home'. His is a story of bewildering sexual identity, resulting in the eventual embrace of his homosexuality, his political aspirations and public charisma which propels him to the highest echelons of power and to his eventual struggle to find his mother, faced with his inevitable demise with the fatal disease of AIDS.
This fascinating and emotionally powerful story is somewhat weakened by huge amounts of unnecessary detail and really packs a punch only when the two sides of the story begin to come together. For the mother's story, see the film adaptation, 'Philomena', in which Judi Dench gives a rivetting performance as the woman bearing the undeserved stigma of disgrace and suffering the torment of forcible separation from her beloved son.
Phil Burrows.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A Pigeon Pair
Having greatly enjoyed the movie version of "Philomena" I found the written version a salutary addition and change of focus to the
subject of the child's life and... Read more
Published 8 hours ago by Jenny D.
4.0 out of 5 stars Type of Story
What a tragic story!
Sorry Anthony or Michael did not find his mother or his mother did not find him.
Published 19 hours ago by Donna Asire
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautifully written book about a tragic life
Martin Sixsmith tells a painful story with compassion and insight. This was an amazing book to read, personalising the plight of many children who found themselves torn from their... Read more
Published 4 days ago by Frances Anita Feldman
4.0 out of 5 stars A very moving read
A week ago I saw the movie Philomena, and was moved by the human drama that unfolded. It was funny, sad and ultimately tragic, and this made me want to read more. Read more
Published 5 days ago by mg stevenson
2.0 out of 5 stars Same book as Philomena Lee with Dame Judy Dench on the cover
It is the very same book, word for word, as the book called "Philomena Lee" with Dame Judy Dench on the cover with the author. Exact same wording!!! Don't be fooled. Read more
Published 5 days ago by E. Lowndes
5.0 out of 5 stars Sad but wonderful
Loved this book. Sad but uplifting. Loved the movie. Enjoyed the book even more. Tugs at the heartstrings but is uplifting as well.
Published 6 days ago by Ann Booker
5.0 out of 5 stars a must read
A well written , easy to read book. Recommended to read to understand what used to happen at those times. Be prepared to share some tears. The book is better than the movie.
Published 8 days ago by Swiss miss
5.0 out of 5 stars Philonena
loved the movie and loved the book "the Lost Child of Philomena Lee" as it balanced the whole story and filled in the blanks.
Published 11 days ago by Barbara Hempseed
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended.
I enjoyed this book. Really well written. I found it hard to put down.
Very sad and made you understand why those children and their mothers had to keep searching for answers.
Published 12 days ago by Valerie O'Dell
4.0 out of 5 stars Unexpected
I purchased the book after seeing the movie, Philomena. I expected it to be basicly the same story, but expanded. It is not. Read more
Published 13 days ago by Sharon E. Musser
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