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Showing 1-10 of 1,176 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 1,398 reviews
on December 31, 2013
I really enjoyed the movie version with Judi Dench and Steven Coogan and was a little surprised when a one-star reviewer claimed how inferior the Martin Sixmith (played in the movie by Coogan) book is to the movie. I want to take issue with that assessment. The movie—which is wonderfully done—is only a slice of the whole. The movie is focused upon Philomena Lee with very little about the son she lost to an American family whereas the book is much more about the one, Anthony, who becomes Michael Hess.

The evilness of Archbishop McQuaid in Ireland is not part of the movie. So reading this book has given me a much broader view of what happened, of just how truly horrific this archbishop was and how terrible the Catholic Church was as an institution dealing with unwed mothers and their babies. The Irish government quite literally allowed for the selling of these babies and never allowing the mothers to have their own children. The church treated these young women as though they were Hester Prynne—marked for life as sinners.

The book is primarily about the two children who are adopted by Doc and Marge Hess who have three biological sons. Marge has a brother who becomes a bishop, a very kind man, a real counterbalance to the evil McQuaid. The reader is given a chronological look at the life of Michael within this family, within the American Catholic church, with a lot of dialogue which, of course, has to have been created by Sixsmith. We don’t really know too much about his sources. But I read the book the same way I would read a novel.

In the movie we know little about Michael’s motivation to see his biological mother whereas in the book a lot is made of his efforts. In fact as I read the book I thought this: there should be two movies: “Philomena” and a second titled “Michael.” We experience his struggles with his homosexuality in an era when coming out was often dangerous. We experience him as a high schooler who loved singing and performing in musicals. And as an excellent student at Notre Dame and then as a law student at George Washington University. And then his struggles as a closeted Republican during the Reagan years when he was so involved in Washington politics.
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on March 15, 2014
I enjoyed the movie, but this book was not really about Philomena. I gave up about 2/3 of the way through and discovered that only the very final chapter or two of the book were about Philomena and her search. As I read the fictionalized story of Michael Hess, it seemed an odd choice for the author to structure the book as a fictionalized narrative. Much of the book is conversational, which by its very nature must be made up by the author since he was not a fly on the wall. I expected the book to be about Philomena and her search, but it finally dawned on me that the author had a political agenda. The movie was wonderful, and left me wondering and wanting to read more. This book did not answer any of the questions I had, and it was disappointing to say the least. I usually finish what I start but my time is valuable and I did not enjoy what I read. It took me over a month to wade through approximately 250 pages. Ugh.
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on January 28, 2014
If you are reading this because of the film - don't. Hollywood does it again and although the basic start and end maybe the same the way the content is put it is not. For a great deal of the book it feels like a trip through the gay bars of the United States.
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on December 5, 2013
I saw the film on Thanksgiving evening and was captivated by the story so I rushed home and ordered the book. I've given it three stars only because it was interesting, but the film is better. The film tells the story from Philomena's viewpoint while the book tells the story from Anthony/Michael's side of things. There is very little of Philomena's story in the book and that was disappointing. The factual/historical details of the HIV/AIDS outbreak and the government's lack of timely reaction to such a medical crisis was informative, but I would save my money and just see the film instead for a heartwarming story with exceptional acting by Judy Dench.
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VINE VOICEon January 9, 2014
Small portions of the beginning and end of this book (very small portions) deal with Philomena and her search for her son. The VAST majority of the book is a detailed chronicle of the life of Michael Hess -- a gay man in a time when that was not as acceptable at it is today. We are told about Michael's difficult time as an adopted child, we learn of his struggle to acknowledge his sexuality and then his life long struggle to keep it a secret while acting upon it in a wide variety of ways that eventually lead to his demise.

Almost none of the book details the search that his birth mother undertook to find him and there is virtually no discussion of her feelings as an adult forced to give away her child in the unyielding Irish world in which she lived. Instead this is a long expose of the life of gay men in America in the 70s and 80s. There are huge sections of the book discussing how terrible the Republican party was (in the eyes of the author) to gays and many long, drawn out sections of Michael mentally demeaning and demoralizing himself about this current and past choices. Most other characters are very black or very white. Michael's mother can do no bad and his father can do no good. His brothers are portrayed as cruel and selfish while his sister can do no wrong.

This is not the book that is advertised on Amazon or in the movie trailers and I was sorely disappointed in having the subject matter changed from what was portrayed. I have not seen the movie but it must have taken a significant amount of imagination and liberty with the book to come up with the plot that I hear the movie has. I would not buy or read this book again.
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on January 7, 2014
I was surprised that the book focused more on Michael's life and that the actual search, as depicted in the movie, was a very small part of the story. And Philomena never came to the US looking for Michael. However, the book was very moving and poignant. For me, it was a walk down memory lane during the 60's, 70's, 80's and 90's as our country grappled with the concept of homosexuals being people of worth deserving of our respect and love. I had forgotten the conservative stances taken by many of our leaders; their derisive, hateful, hurtful, statements; and their refusal to fund and acknowledge the importance of AIDS research that could have saved many more lives. My heart bled as Michael struggled to find himself amid all the negativity of the time against gay people; his position in the Catholic Church and its stance against gay people; and his misconception that he had been abandoned by his mother--due to the lies told him. These and other factors fueled his self loathing. When good, loving people were in Michael's life, his self loathing, that always lurked beneath the surface, destroyed the relationships. HIs final partner, Pete Nilsson, was blessed with enough love to support Michael as he walked the last part of his journey on earth. With respect to the Catholic Church in Ireland, it has a lot of atonement to acknowledge for its actions during that era. My heart ached as Michael and Philomena tried so desperately to contact each other and "missed by a hair"--if only the nuns had exercised some compassion. Their cruel treatment of the confused, young women; their selling of their babies/children; the lies that were told about the births and relinquishments of the babies; and their refusal to help mothers and children reunite; that was the greatest of all sin. Philomena and Michael are now reunited but it could have been before his death had the nuns lived the love they professed for their Christ. As I finished the book, I took pride in the fact that we have come a long way in recognizing the rights of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. And we have a long way to go but history is finally moving in a positive direction. If only Michael could have lived to see this day. If somehow he and his mother could have been reunited. It is a book that has left me thinking about its message and longing to share it with other people. It was not an easy book to read--it breaks your heart in so many places. But it is a book that those of us, who strive for the human rights of all people, need to read.
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on March 9, 2014
Read this book because I had seen and loved the movie. There is little relationship between the book and the movie except that the first few chapters are about the mother and son. Once the little boy is adopted there is almost no relationship between the two. The book is the story of the sexual coming of age of the son. Don't know how the author found out all of the gory details about the son's sexual encounters, his advice from confessional events at Notre Dame, his participation in extreme homosexual encounters as a young man and other very personal events in the son's life. At times it read like a diatribe against the US government and the presidency in particular for not getting on board the aids epidemic earlier. I felt like I was reading a "movement" book, not the poignant story portrayed in the movie. In conversation with someone I was describing the book and the person said "How did the author know all of that about the boy's life" and I realized I was reading, in the middle of the book, a fiction. Once I realized that I quit reading it. It is not a "Fifty-year Search" as much as it is a "coming of age sexually" kind of book. So unless you are in to such fictions, don't bother.
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on December 15, 2013
The underlying story of an unwed mother, her child, and the coerced surrender and closed adoption could have been the underpinnings of a good book. That story was heart wrenching ; the Catholic churches complicity was despicable.

While the title is Philomena, the focus is almost exclusively on her son, Michael Hess (born Anthony Lee). While it is important to understand the psychosocial and spiritual repercussions that ensue when an older child is torn from the loving arms of his birth mother I felt the story focused entirely on Michael and his gay lifestyle. I understand that this was his identity, but I would have liked the focus to have been more evenly divided between the mother and her son.

I probably won't go see the movie after reading this book.
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on February 15, 2014
Not even close to what I expected. Minimal story about a 'search' Just a story of a gay guy. Don't care that he was gay, it just wasn't about a 'mother's 50 year search for her son'.
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on January 27, 2014
I expected to gain additional insight about Philomena and the search for her son. Instead, I read about her son's trials and tribulations, with particular emphasis on his sexual preferences. I truly wondered how the author got some of the detailed information he used about the son's physical proclivities and from whence he got the quotes. I tend to think a lot of it could be attributed to the author's imagination and story-telling ability; in other words, I believe the quotes were made up in a large number of instances. I realized early on that the name of this book had been changed by titling it 'Philomena" to take advantage of the film by that name. To say that I was disappointed in this book would be an understatement.
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