The Lost Child of Philomena Lee: A Mother, Her Son and A Fifty-Year Search
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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.
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The book does describe Philomena's search for her long, lost son and some of the appalling practices of the Catholic Church in Ireland of that era but most of the book focuses on Michael: his struggle with his homosexuality; his struggles with the contradictions between his political beliefs and his job and lastly the terrible way the government ignored the scourge of AIDS.
Top international reviews
I was surprised about the differences between the two. Whereas the film is very much the story of a mother's longing and search for her lost son, aided by an initially reluctant journalist and discouraged by a defensive Catholic establishment; the book is the story not so much of that search (although it does cast fascinating light on the complicity of the Irish state at the time), but of Philomena's son's life as it unfolded in the United States from toddler to teenger, to grown man of some status. The details given by the author are at times breathtakingly vivid and point to the assistance given Sixsmith by friends and colleagues of Philomena's son. At times though, there is a strong suggestion of literary licence, which to be fair, is admitted to by the author at the outset. However, the question of what is fact and what is assumption/invention left a mild irritation with me and is why I docked it one star.
The book is about much more than an individual's struggle to find out who he really is, with all the looking back into the past that that involves, as he tries to find out about his birth mother and his Irish heritage. It is also about about his struggle to find his life in the present, and not least his emerging sexual identity within largely discouraging familial and workplace contexts. I found that fascinating and profoundly moving.
I would recommend
It looks as so many social, religious, psychological issues, it's a real gem.
The book is well written and fascinating as there is so much more information about Michael than there is in the film. Films have to choose, otherwise they would be far too long and I think it was excellent but I am so pleased I read the book as well. The time scale of events is different and the outcome about the same.