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Angela's Ashes Paperback – Import, 2005
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"Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood," writes Frank McCourt in Angela's Ashes. "Worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood." Welcome, then, to the pinnacle of the miserable Irish Catholic childhood. Born in Brooklyn in 1930 to recent Irish immigrants Malachy and Angela McCourt, Frank grew up in Limerick after his parents returned to Ireland because of poor prospects in America. It turns out that prospects weren't so great back in the old country either--not with Malachy for a father. A chronically unemployed and nearly unemployable alcoholic, he appears to be the model on which many of our more insulting cliches about drunken Irish manhood are based. Mix in abject poverty and frequent death and illness and you have all the makings of a truly difficult early life. Fortunately, in McCourt's able hands it also has all the makings for a compelling memoir. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
From School Library Journal
YA. Despite impoverishing his family because of his alcoholism, McCourt's father passed on to his son a gift for superb storytelling. He told him about the great Irish heroes, the old days in Ireland, the people in their Limerick neighborhood, and the world beyond their shores. McCourt writes in the voice of the child?with no self-pity or review of events?and just retells the tales. He recounts his desperately poor early years, living on public assistance and losing three siblings, but manages to make the book funny and uplifting. Stories of trying on his parents' false teeth and his adventures as a post-office delivery boy will have readers laughing out loud. Young people will recognize the truth in these compelling tales; the emotions expressed; the descriptions of teachers, relatives, neighbors; and the casual cruelty adults show toward children. Readers will enjoy the humor and the music in the language. A vivid, wonderfully readable memoir.?Patricia Noonan, Prince William Public Library, VA
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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1. “As a child, I thought a balanced diet was bread and tea, a solid and a liquid.” Frank McCourt
2. Frank McCourt had beautiful handwriting—a “fine fist” as they said in the old country—and he wrote Angela’s Ashes in longhand.
3. I had heard the term Soupers but never knew what it meant: “We had the soupers in the Famine. The Protestants went round telling good Catholics that if they gave up their faith and turned Protestant they’d get more soup than their bellies could hold and, God help us, some Catholics took the soup, and were ever after known as soupers.”
4. All this time, I’ve been saying Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! Evidently, I’ve been saying it wrong. Per the book, it’s...Jesus, Mary and Holy St. Joseph!
5. Frank’s Mom had a decent sense of humor. Irish Catholic wives were supposed to have children relentlessly. This was her reply after her last baby, Alphie (child #10!): “Mam says, Alphie is enough. I’m worn out. That’s the end of it. No more children. Dad says, The good Catholic woman must perform her wifely duties and submit to her husband or face eternal damnation. Mam says, As long as there are no more children eternal damnation sounds attractive enough to me.”
6.) On your 16th birthday in Ireland, it was tradition to have Your Father take you to the local pub for your first pint Of Guinness (boys only of course)...
7.) The funniest story in the book was when the family was literally cutting the wood walls of their home to use as firewood and were running out!: “Mam says, One more board from that wall, one more and not another one. She says that for two weeks till there’s nothing left but the beam frame. She warns us we are not to touch the beams for they hold up the ceiling and the house itself. Oh, we’d never touch the beams. She goes to see Grandma and it’s so cold in the house I take the hatchet to one of the beams. Malachy cheers me on and Michael claps his hands with excitement. I pull on the beam, the ceiling groans and down on Mam’s bed there’s a shower of plaster, slates, rain. Malachy says, Oh, God, we’ll all be killed, and Michael dances around singing, Frankie broke the house, Frankie broke the house!”
8.) I had never heard the term American Wake but this makes perfect sense: “Mam says we’ll have to have a bit of party the night before I go to America. They used to have parties in the old days when anyone would go to America, which was so far away the parties were called American wakes because the family never expected to see the departing one again in this life.”
The setting was Ireland and he brought the flavor
of the Emerald Isle along with all its greenery to a bigger than life status!
So much of the book was depressing yet he intermingled comedic parts throughout to keep it balanced and exciting!
The reader was shown the perils of poverty and all its brutal effects on a family: the father, mother, children and relatives.
In most cases it brought out the worst of people but some characters showed strength and resilience beyond imagination!
The ending provided no resolutions and left you with a grave feeling of despair and uncertainty!
It was a sad tale of woe which makes one wonder if any of us could ever endure what Frank and his family did and live to actually write about it?
Most reviewers notice the poverty. How sad. But they did not see it that way. I remember the night they were evicted, and they sang "Swanee, how I love ya how I love ya my dear old swaneeeee," as they walked through the night. How much wealth you have is not really the issue, because people find a relative amount of joy and sadness, regardless of their wealth. Look at the stories of Joyce Carol Oates, how the wealthy suffer so much...
What I notice more than the poverty, is the culture that happens to be steeped in Catholic mythology. A prominent theme in the book is how the Catholic Church closed its doors to little Frankie three times. The religion didn't seem to be doing anybody any favors. If anything, the hundreds of references to shame and guilt, show how the characters were harmed by the way religion was done in that time and place.
Not only religion, but how hunger and indulgence influence parents to do harmful things to their children. McCourt's father couldn't stay away from the drink, and hardly ever shared his wages with the family, drinking them all gone each Friday night. How sad! But little Frankie didn't see it that way--not much. He loved his Dad. And the father was loving, in the ways that he could be, never raising a hand to his kids, draining the baby's nostrils.. We could see it was shame that led the father to drink, (plus a head injury). People frequently judge him for not keeping jobs, for spending all the money. He simply doesn't know how to cope with this shame, other than drinking. it was a circular pattern he simply did not know how to get out of. Many an author pens his father in ways that readers may judge. Not here.
The book is a miracle, that someone could look back at that childhood-indoctrination and not judge it. He was judged by the Catholic preachers, teachers, parents and peers, and he developed a strong habit of self-judgment as a child. His parents' indulgences in beer and cigarettes had already turned him to secret indulgences in candy, he shows us as an author. But those who taught the children to be ashamed, and to cope by indulgence, are not judged in this story.
How did McCourt escape alcoholism and catholic shame? That's what I want to know. That's what got me reading his other books, Tis, and Teacher Man. Maybe the answer is there. Perhaps by teaching other kids, and telling his own stories over and over to them, to help them to not judge themselves, and rise above, McCourt found a way to be curious about his own enculturation and share it nonjudgmentally.
Not only is this a great story, but a great teaching, a spiritual lesson that I am still digesting. I enjoyed McCourt's writings when they first came out, and enjoying them again, perhaps even more this time... seeing even more value I did not see the first round.
I will probably give all three books another listen in another year or two...
Not surprised if catholic (and ex-catholic) groups would ask him to speak to their groups.. or lead workshops?
Most recent customer reviews
Thank you for your talent, Frank. Much appreciated.