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Angela's Ashes: A Memoir of a Childhood

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Imbued on every page with Frank McCourt's astounding humor and compassion. This is a glorious book that bears all the marks of a classic. "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 Imbued on every page with Frank McCourt's astounding humor and compassion. This is a glorious book that bears all the marks of a classic. "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 Pulitzer Prize winning 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.


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Imbued on every page with Frank McCourt's astounding humor and compassion. This is a glorious book that bears all the marks of a classic. "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 Imbued on every page with Frank McCourt's astounding humor and compassion. This is a glorious book that bears all the marks of a classic. "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 Pulitzer Prize winning 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.

30 review for Angela's Ashes: A Memoir of a Childhood

  1. 4 out of 5

    Eric Althoff

    Before I get too deep into my review, let me just say this: "Angela's Ashes" is one of the most depressing books I have ever read. That said, it is also fascinating, heartbreaking, searingly honest narration told in the face of extreme poverty and alcoholism. This absolutely entrancing memoir follows an Irish-American-Irish-American (more on this later) boy who comes of age during the Depression and the War years in a country gripped in the stranglehold of the Catholic Church, tradition, rampant Before I get too deep into my review, let me just say this: "Angela's Ashes" is one of the most depressing books I have ever read. That said, it is also fascinating, heartbreaking, searingly honest narration told in the face of extreme poverty and alcoholism. This absolutely entrancing memoir follows an Irish-American-Irish-American (more on this later) boy who comes of age during the Depression and the War years in a country gripped in the stranglehold of the Catholic Church, tradition, rampant poverty and unemployment, and the seemingly ubiquitous curse of the Irish: alcohol. Young Frank McCourt is born in American barely five months after his parents were wed. (Naturally, he will ask later about the math.) His father squanders the family's wages at the pubs and soon the family (with new children seeming to drop on a regular basis) moves back to Ireland. Frank and his family move from slum to slum as his father drifts aimlessly from one job to the next and from one pub to the next, coming home at midnight to rouse his boys from bed, making them promise to die for Ireland. Everywhere for Frank is misery: at school, at home, in the weather, in the dreary conditions of Limerick, and in a fiercly pious populace. Forced to be a man long before most kids even have a paper route, Frank is soon working to supplement whatever his mother can get handed from the government or begging while his father is off working and drinking in England's wartime industries. Frank dreams only of returning to America, where "everyone is a movie star." This novel is so incredibly heartbreaking not only because it is true, but because it highlights the devastating conditions faced by millions (and which sadly continue). The work is a stinging indictment of alcoholism without being a polemic, merely a recollection of what was everday life of the narrator's family, courtesy of his father's drinking. McCourt's supreme strength is in narrating the book through the eyes of his younger self rather than as an adult commentating or proselytizing about what he saw and did as a young man. The young Frank makes choices out of survival instincts and simply because they seemed right at the time (i.e. stealing to eat while promising himself to pay it all back later). On top of the normal perils of adolescence--sexual awakening and social awkardness--Frank, and countless young people like him, needed to grow up far too early to stave of homelessness for himself and his family in the absence of his drifter, drinking father. And ultimately, it is also the quintessential immigrant story of saving up enough to leave the Old Country behind in pursuit of a better life in America. Approach "Angela's Ashes" with both caution and an open mind. Bring tissues and try not to condemn. Be like young Frank: Observe without damning.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Gail

    What, did NO one find this book funny except me??? I must be really perverse. Although the account of Frank's bad eyes was almost physically painful to read, the rest of the story didn't seem too odd or sad or overdone to me. My dad's family were immigrants; his father died young of cirrhosis of the liver, leaving my grandmother to raise her six living children (of a total of 13) on a cleaning woman's pay. So? Life was hard. They weren't Irish and they lived in New York, but when you hear that What, did NO one find this book funny except me??? I must be really perverse. Although the account of Frank's bad eyes was almost physically painful to read, the rest of the story didn't seem too odd or sad or overdone to me. My dad's family were immigrants; his father died young of cirrhosis of the liver, leaving my grandmother to raise her six living children (of a total of 13) on a cleaning woman's pay. So? Life was hard. They weren't Irish and they lived in New York, but when you hear that your dad occasionally trapped pigeons and roasted them to eat, you develop a certain, er, resistance to tales of woe. They worked hard and did the best they could. And in between, life could be really, really funny. That's how I saw this book. After reading some of the reviews here, I'm beginning to think I read a different book. Or that I'm completely odd, which is much more likely.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Mitch Albom

    I read his book, then I got to know him, and rarely will you find as similar a voice between the man and the writer as in this memoir. A tragic gem of a childhood story.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Brina

    I think I read Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt initially when the book was first published. In high school at the time, my mother and I shared books. I was introduced to all of her favorite authors that way and most of these authors I still read now. One author who was new to both of us at the time was New York school teacher Frank McCourt who published a memoir of his life growing up in Brooklyn and Limerick, Ireland. As with most books from that era, I had vague recollections because I spent I think I read Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt initially when the book was first published. In high school at the time, my mother and I shared books. I was introduced to all of her favorite authors that way and most of these authors I still read now. One author who was new to both of us at the time was New York school teacher Frank McCourt who published a memoir of his life growing up in Brooklyn and Limerick, Ireland. As with most books from that era, I had vague recollections because I spent the next twenty years finishing high school and college and raising a family. Books I read in high school were not at the forefront of my mind. Since my youngest daughter transitioned to a full school day three years ago, I have gone back and read all of those forgotten to me books from high school through adult eyes. The experience has been for the most part positive with only a few books that stand out as disliking. With my ongoing lifetime Pulitzer challenge focusing on nonfiction winners this year, I decided to finally turn my attention back to Angela’s Ashes and found it a worthy book indeed. Angela Sheehan immigrated to America from Limerick, Ireland at the onset of the Depression. Life in the slums of Limerick was unbearable even for a champion ballroom dancer like Angela. Immediately after stepping off the boat, Angela meets Malachy McCourt and becomes pregnant by him. Being good Catholics, the couple gets married. Five months later, Frank is born, followed in close succession by Malachy, twins Oliver and Eugène, and Margaret. Malachy (the father) is a chronic drunk and spends all of his wages on drinks in local pubs. The children have no food, Margaret dies from SIDS, the twins wear rags for diapers, and Angela is inconsolable. At the urging of cousins, the family emigrates back to Limerick because as destitute as life is there, the McCourts will be among family who can support them in their desperate hour. Ireland and its green land of the River Shannon and Cuchulain the hero who died for the country do not solve Malachy’s drinking problem. He can barely hold a job and Angela and the children still have barely any food to eat. The children still wear rags for diapers and the family shares two beds in flea and lice infested apartments where an entire building shares one bathroom. The twins succumb to illness and all is too much for Angela to handle. Her mother and sister have no sympathy for her situation and the family is relegated to going on the dole and asking for handouts at St Vincent of the Destitute. The McCourts eventually move to a home at the top of Roden Lane. It is as decrepit as their other homes but at least no one died there despite having one lavatory for the entire street that is right outside of their home. Although a chronic drunk, Malachy makes the best of the situation naming the downstairs portion of their home Ireland and the upstairs Italy. The children rarely have food but at least they have each other and stories told of old Ireland by the fireplace each morning. Frank and Malachy and eventually surviving brothers Michael and Alphonsus attend the Leamy National School for the poor. Run by priests, it is a quality education despite the fact that most of the boys rarely eat, wear dilapidated shoes, and have parents who survive on the dole or handouts. The River Shannon and its environs sickens the air and Frank can name many friends and acquaintances who have died over the years of consumption. Yet, despite the horrendous upbringing that Frank McCourt knew, Angela’s Ashes had me laughing over the course of the book as he used humor to get through the darkest of situations of his life. His uncle Pa Keating was quite the character and interactions with him had me in stitches. Frank’s fear of confession to the priests and then his time in confession was also laced with comedy, as were most every other episode in the memoir, including dance lessons and mooching off school to run in an apple orchard with friends. If the situation was not so dire, perhaps comedy would not have been needed, yet Frank McCourt had a gift with words even as a kid. It was this gift that had his mother and other relatives telling him that he would go far in life in spite of the environs of Limerick during the darkest days of both the Depression and World War II. With a drunk father and destitute mother, Frank desired to go to America as soon as he had the means to do so. By age nineteen, he sailed on a reverse trip back to New York and Frank was in America to stay. Eventually Malachy would follow and they would develop a comedic act for two about growing up poor in Ireland. Angela’s Ashes, despite the impoverished environment that it describes, is one of the most inspiring books I have read. How could anyone have an attitude other than positive and expect to rise from the slums of Limerick and make something of one’s life. Frank McCourt could find humor in any situation, even one that saw his parents bury three children and live for nearly twenty years on public assistance. Angela’s Ashes brings to light this horrendous situation and has me realize that even though the United States was also hit by depression, it is still the land of opportunity for people around the globe, the McCourts included. Thankfully, Frank McCourt reached New York and eventually told his story to the world, offering a beacon of light in even the darkest of times. 5 stars

  5. 4 out of 5

    David

    But the worst offender of the last twenty years has to be the uniquely meretricious drivel that constitutes "Angela's Ashes". Dishonest at every level, slimeball McCourt managed to parlay his mawkish maunderings to commercial success, presumably because the particular assortment of rainsodden cliches hawked in the book not only dovetails beautifully with the stereotypes lodged in the brain of every American of Irish descent, but also panders to the lummoxes collective need to feel superior But the worst offender of the last twenty years has to be the uniquely meretricious drivel that constitutes "Angela's Ashes". Dishonest at every level, slimeball McCourt managed to parlay his mawkish maunderings to commercial success, presumably because the particular assortment of rainsodden cliches hawked in the book not only dovetails beautifully with the stereotypes lodged in the brain of every American of Irish descent, but also panders to the lummoxes collective need to feel superior because they have managed to transcend their primitive, bog-soaked origins, escaping the grinding poverty imagined in the book, to achieve - what? Spiritual fulfilment in the split-level comfort of a Long Island ranch home? And Frankie the pimp misses not a beat, tailoring his mendacity to warp the portrayal of reality in just the way his audience likes. No native Irish reader, myself included, has anything but the deepest contempt for this particular exercise in literary prostitution and the cynical weasel responsible for it. {my apologies to the fine people of Long Island, for the unnecessary vehemence of the implied slur in the above review: clearly it is not meant to be all-encompassing}

  6. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    There once was a lad reared in Limerick, Quite literally without a bone to pick. His da used scant earnings To slake liquid yearnings; In American parlance – a dick. To get past a father who drank In a place that was dismal and dank, He wrote not in rhymes, But of those shite times A memoir that filled up his bank.

  7. 4 out of 5

    George Bradford

    “If you had the luck of the Irish You’d be sorry and wish you was dead If you had the luck of the Irish Then you’d wish you was English instead” How can ONE book be so WONDERFUL and so HORRIBLE at the same time? I have no idea. But this book is both. Big time. It’s difficult to imagine anything worse than a childhood crushed under the oppressive conditions of abject poverty, relentless filth and unmitigated suffering. The childhood described in this book is the worst I’ve ever encountered. The “ “If you had the luck of the Irish You’d be sorry and wish you was dead If you had the luck of the Irish Then you’d wish you was English instead” How can ONE book be so WONDERFUL and so HORRIBLE at the same time? I have no idea. But this book is both. Big time. It’s difficult to imagine anything worse than a childhood crushed under the oppressive conditions of abject poverty, relentless filth and unmitigated suffering. The childhood described in this book is the worst I’ve ever encountered. The “lucky” children suffer injuries or illnesses that (due to poverty) go untreated and result in death. The rest suffer miserable existences. Actually, “suffer” and “miserable” are not adequate to describe the experience. The children in “Angela’s Ashes” would have traded their lives for a life of merely suffering a miserable childhood in a heartbeat. And yet, somehow, Frank McCourt achieves a brilliant feat in this book. He tells a horrific story that caused me to cringe, grind my teeth, cry and loose sleep worrying. This book affected me physically. It was beyond upsetting. But McCourt wrote it in a way that kept me reading. As depressing as it was I could not put it down. McCourt’s writing is mesmerizing.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽

    This autobiographical book about Frank McCourt's childhood is so lyrical and well-written that I fell in love with it by the time I was on the second page. And then it seriously took my heart and ripped it into little shreds and stomped on the remains. When I read Angela's Ashes my children were really young, about the ages of Frank and his siblings at the start of the book. I found the story of their neglect-filled childhood in New York and Ireland - with a helpless mother and an alcoholic This autobiographical book about Frank McCourt's childhood is so lyrical and well-written that I fell in love with it by the time I was on the second page. And then it seriously took my heart and ripped it into little shreds and stomped on the remains. When I read Angela's Ashes my children were really young, about the ages of Frank and his siblings at the start of the book. I found the story of their neglect-filled childhood in New York and Ireland - with a helpless mother and an alcoholic father who spends his odd paychecks, as well as their welfare payments, in the pubs and lets his family starve and children die - so harrowing that I literally shoved the book under my bed after I'd read about a hundred pages and tried to forget what I'd read. It was at least a couple of months before I could bring myself to pull it back out again and finish it. Life got better for Frank McCourt as he got older, and I managed to finish the book without more tears, but it's that heartwrenching first part of this book that really sticks in my memory years later.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Maxwell

    Quite different from other memoirs I read--especially the brand of memoir that's been coming out in the last few years--Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes tells of the author's poverty-stricken childhood in Ireland in the early 20th century. It's told from the first person present perspective, which doesn't allow for as much mature reflection, but it does create a very immediate & immersive atmosphere. And speaking of atmosphere, McCourt writes so descriptively and which such skill that you can Quite different from other memoirs I read--especially the brand of memoir that's been coming out in the last few years--Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes tells of the author's poverty-stricken childhood in Ireland in the early 20th century. It's told from the first person present perspective, which doesn't allow for as much mature reflection, but it does create a very immediate & immersive atmosphere. And speaking of atmosphere, McCourt writes so descriptively and which such skill that you can really picture everything he's talking about. It's incredibly well written, with a Joycean stream of consciousness that again contributes to the immersive quality of the story. I'd recommend taking your time with this one, not only because it's depressive nature is a bit too much to bear in large quantities, but also because there's so much to savor and appreciate about McCourt's story and writing. I see why this is a modern classic.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Annet

    Impressive read...years ago already. Updating my library.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Beata

    I just felt depressed while reading this novel. You can't imagine that people could live in such poverty and yet survive somehow. The book is gripping but makes you feel helpless..

  12. 4 out of 5

    Lyn

    Angela’s Ashes is a beautifully written, painfully honest account of Frank McCourt’s childhood in Limerick, Ireland. Frank’s parents, both Irish, met in New York and began their family there. McCourt himself was born in New York, but this was in the 1930s and the depression hurt everyone and everywhere, especially immigrant Irish with no resources. So back to Ireland they go to live near his maternal grandmother. 1930s Limerick was not much better than New York, especially for Frank’s father who Angela’s Ashes is a beautifully written, painfully honest account of Frank McCourt’s childhood in Limerick, Ireland. Frank’s parents, both Irish, met in New York and began their family there. McCourt himself was born in New York, but this was in the 1930s and the depression hurt everyone and everywhere, especially immigrant Irish with no resources. So back to Ireland they go to live near his maternal grandmother. 1930s Limerick was not much better than New York, especially for Frank’s father who spoke with a “north of Ireland accent”. Succinctly stated, the novel begins with this statement: “Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood”. Told with equal parts humor and sobriety, this swings rapidly from hilarious to heartbreaking. A good book.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Ashleigh

    I have to admit that I didn't love the first third of this book but I realize the information gained there made me enjoy the rest even more. At times, this book was a beautiful dark comedy, "There is nothing like a wake for having a good time," and I think that some day I might make my kids promise to die for Ireland. Near the end, the young boy is trying to figure out what adultery is by looking it up in the dictionary; he is forced to look up new words with each explanation he finds and the I have to admit that I didn't love the first third of this book but I realize the information gained there made me enjoy the rest even more. At times, this book was a beautiful dark comedy, "There is nothing like a wake for having a good time," and I think that some day I might make my kids promise to die for Ireland. Near the end, the young boy is trying to figure out what adultery is by looking it up in the dictionary; he is forced to look up new words with each explanation he finds and the result it priceless. There is also a part where an old man has the young boy read A Modest Proposal. I love that essay and just read a parody of it within another parody, The Sorrows of Young Mike. I love books which reference the piece and would appreciate people to let me know any other works that mention the satire in the comments below.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Tatiana

    Picked this memoire to experience some more foreign countries through literature. Good choice. What could have easily been another misery porn (immense poverty, hunger, never-ending unwanted pregnancies, drunkenness, strict religion, deaths of TB and pneumonia on every other page) became something more because of the author's remarkable voice, filled with innocence, humor and almost unwavering optimism of childhood. Amazing that McCourt managed to preserve this voice well into his 60s.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    Life is suffering. And the root of all suffering is want. And we want. Oh, we want. We want the husband to keep the job and come home sober. We want the kids to live. We want shoes and clothes that fit and don't have holes. We want to eat. We want a roof that doesn't leak and indoor plumbing, for Christ's sake. We want the priest with the servant not to kick us from his door and tell us our suffering is caused by sin. We want something kinder than guilt or shame. We want friendship. We want love. We Life is suffering. And the root of all suffering is want. And we want. Oh, we want. We want the husband to keep the job and come home sober. We want the kids to live. We want shoes and clothes that fit and don't have holes. We want to eat. We want a roof that doesn't leak and indoor plumbing, for Christ's sake. We want the priest with the servant not to kick us from his door and tell us our suffering is caused by sin. We want something kinder than guilt or shame. We want friendship. We want love. We want more. Oh, we want. But why would YOU want to read this almost twenty year old memoir set in a far earlier time? What, after all, do you have in common with a brutally honest and witty boy growing up during the Depression and World War II in Limerick, Ireland? Well, have you ever wanted anything?

  16. 5 out of 5

    Adam Floridia

    I had not planned on writing a proper review, so I began to read others'. Quite a few unleashed verbal vitriol at McCourt's memoir, claiming that it is not entirely accurate and that it is too mawkish/maudlin/bathetic. Others claim that the author romanticizes the penury and destitution of the lives in his lane. First, no memoir can ever be 100% truthful; our memories are incomplete and sporadic (at best). In fact, as I read I liked that there were NO quotation marks used to indicate speech. I I had not planned on writing a proper review, so I began to read others'. Quite a few unleashed verbal vitriol at McCourt's memoir, claiming that it is not entirely accurate and that it is too mawkish/maudlin/bathetic. Others claim that the author romanticizes the penury and destitution of the lives in his lane. First, no memoir can ever be 100% truthful; our memories are incomplete and sporadic (at best). In fact, as I read I liked that there were NO quotation marks used to indicate speech. I actually thought that was a subtle way to indicate the author wholeheartedly admitting that it is impossible to accurately recall conversations from one's childhood. The book does not have to represent a meticulously accurate picture of what Limerick was like at the time; all it has to do, and all any memoir purports to do, is reveal what life in a particular place was like AS EXPERIENCED BY THE AUTHOR. Plus, who cares about inaccuracies--a good story is a good story. To say it is maudlin is extreme. There are many unfortunate events that take place; however, not once did I get the sense that McCourt was trying to manipulate his readers' sympathies. Events were described as a child would experience them...kind of like a Scout Finch as narrator. It is this fact that led some reviewers to claim that McCourt romanticized the rampant squalor and death. That would be like saying To Kill a Mockingbird romanticizes racial prejudice. Anyway, it was an absorbing read filled with personal tragedies and laced with humor. Definitely worth a read. If I were not such a jackass in high school, perhaps I would have appreciated Frank McCourt speaking at my graduation and even read this ten years ago. I wish I had.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jaline

    If you are afraid of your emotions, whether the depth or variety of them, don't read this book. If you can allow yourself to explore them fully by being led through an incredible life's early journey and experiencing the range of feeling available to humanity, you will love this book.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Teresa

    In Angela's Ashes, Frank McCourt paints a picture of a childhood mired in poverty. He manages to be humorous and heartbreaking, and hopeless and triumphant all at once. I laughed, I cried, I felt dearly for the disadvantaged McCourt family that struggled against all odds. The memoir borrows heavily from the art of realism -- as tales of impoverished childhoods usually are. McCourt was born in depression era Brooklyn to an alcoholic father who spent all his wages at the bar, and a mother disgraced In Angela's Ashes, Frank McCourt paints a picture of a childhood mired in poverty. He manages to be humorous and heartbreaking, and hopeless and triumphant all at once. I laughed, I cried, I felt dearly for the disadvantaged McCourt family that struggled against all odds. The memoir borrows heavily from the art of realism -- as tales of impoverished childhoods usually are. McCourt was born in depression era Brooklyn to an alcoholic father who spent all his wages at the bar, and a mother disgraced and desperate to feed her starving children. Here, we have a glimpse at the life of an Irish family living in a ratty (but ethnically diverse) tenement building. The children were often left their own devices, while the adults struggled with adult problems -- keeping a home, putting food on the table, etc. Loss is a prevalent and recurring theme in the book. Frankie's siblings, as young as several months, were victims of death many times. Things don't improve when they move back to Ireland to start over. Their North-Irish and alcoholic of a father couldn't find work, drank all the charity money they managed to get, and eventually abandoned his family for good. Meanwhile, the rest of the family must overcompensate by stealing, begging, and applying for public assistance -- the shame of which deeply affect each member of the family. Additionally, Frankie, a devout Catholic, must reconcile his church values and practices with stealing to feed his family, his sexual awakening, and the continuing deaths of his family and acquaintances. All in all, fantastic depression-era slice-of-life of a poor Irish family. McCourt is soulful and has a way with weaving tales and building characters. He makes you laugh and cry with the family, and keeps you rooting for their survival. I was very engaged and was sorry it had to end (a bit too abruptly too, I must say.) Five stars.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Angela Paquin

    It's been ten years since I've read this book. Like everyone else I was floored by it when it first came out. But time and age have made me wiser. I don't think it's stood the test of time and the more I think of it... my grandmother is right. It's a one-sided, depressing view of life in Ireland. "Woah is me..." is the book in a nutshell. This book simply has you marinate in negativity. Maybe I've read too much Phillip Roth in the meantime and compared to his characters this book seems too whiny It's been ten years since I've read this book. Like everyone else I was floored by it when it first came out. But time and age have made me wiser. I don't think it's stood the test of time and the more I think of it... my grandmother is right. It's a one-sided, depressing view of life in Ireland. "Woah is me..." is the book in a nutshell. This book simply has you marinate in negativity. Maybe I've read too much Phillip Roth in the meantime and compared to his characters this book seems too whiny and annoying. I read masterieces like the Grapes of Wrath or As I Lay Dying and they still ring true. This? Not so much. You want to know about Ireland: read the series of books starting with The Year of the French by Thomas Flanagan. "In 1798, Irish patriots, committed to freeing their country from England, landed with a company of French troops in County Mayo, in westernmost Ireland. They were supposed to be an advance guard, followed by other French ships with the leader of the rebellion, Wolfe Tone. Briefly they triumphed, raising hopes among the impoverished local peasantry (our ancestors) and gathering a group of supporters (wouldn't be suprised if one of them fought...) But before long the insurgency collapsed in the face of a brutal English counterattack. Very few books succeed in registering the sudden terrible impact of historical events; Thomas Flanagan's is one. Subtly conceived, masterfully paced, with a wide and memorable cast of characters, The Year of the French brings to life peasants and landlords, Protestants and Catholics, along with old and abiding questions of secular and religious commitments, empire, occupation, and rebellion. It is quite simply a great historical novel." or James Joyce's The Dubliners or Ulysses... or Sean O'Casey The Plough & the Stars or William Inge's Playboy of the Western World

  20. 5 out of 5

    Peter

    What makes this book special and makes it evocative of the era, is not just the painful details of a poverty-stricken Irish Catholic childhood lived during World War II, but the beautiful voice of the young Frank McCourt. The man, the writer of this book, the adult Frank McCourt, brings his youthful self alive in a way that brings the reader into direct contact with the author as a child. The details of McCourt’s life and the things that young Frank notices evoke a certain era, and certain What makes this book special and makes it evocative of the era, is not just the painful details of a poverty-stricken Irish Catholic childhood lived during World War II, but the beautiful voice of the young Frank McCourt. The man, the writer of this book, the adult Frank McCourt, brings his youthful self alive in a way that brings the reader into direct contact with the author as a child. The details of McCourt’s life and the things that young Frank notices evoke a certain era, and certain struggles that have been well documented both in fiction and non-fiction. But no one produced a young Frank McCourt. This character, real and reanimated, leaps from the pages to join the reader’s household. Like few other books I’ve read, Angela’s Ashes is a cure for loneliness. When you read this prize-winning memoir, you’re not alone, but instead have young and humorous Frank standing over your shoulder telling you what mam says and what da says. In this classically dysfunctional Irish Catholic family the parents advice rarely agrees leaving little Frankie to figure life out for himself—another archetypal element from the Irish Catholic childhoods of a few generations ago. This book transcends the genre, making it fully deserving of the attention and prizes lauded to it and its author.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Melvina

    One of my most favorite books and authors of all time. I can't get enough of Frank's stories. I also listened to him tell it on an audio recording, and it's even more awesome listening to his Irish accent. The most compelling characteristic of his writing is the ability to write about a subject as dire and despairing as poverty and neglect, and make it so blisteringly funny, I'm in tears. Then in another chapter, I'm crying with grief over the loss of his siblings and the humiliations of his One of my most favorite books and authors of all time. I can't get enough of Frank's stories. I also listened to him tell it on an audio recording, and it's even more awesome listening to his Irish accent. The most compelling characteristic of his writing is the ability to write about a subject as dire and despairing as poverty and neglect, and make it so blisteringly funny, I'm in tears. Then in another chapter, I'm crying with grief over the loss of his siblings and the humiliations of his mother. But as awful as his childhood was, he tells it in such a way - GOD, it's funny. I will re-read this many times. It's that good.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Kerri

    I tried to read this about ten years ago and gave up after the first chapter - I just couldn't connect with it. This time around was a completely different story. I loved the way Frank McCourt writes, it's lyrical and beautiful even while describing a very bleak situation. His childhood is one of poverty--- siblings die, his father is a drunk, there is never enough food, the housing sounds appalling. It's a very depressing book, as this was the reality for so many people, but there are also I tried to read this about ten years ago and gave up after the first chapter - I just couldn't connect with it. This time around was a completely different story. I loved the way Frank McCourt writes, it's lyrical and beautiful even while describing a very bleak situation. His childhood is one of poverty--- siblings die, his father is a drunk, there is never enough food, the housing sounds appalling. It's a very depressing book, as this was the reality for so many people, but there are also moments of humour and sweetness. I'll be reading the second volume soon as I am very invested in Frank's journey.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Alicia

    There are not words to describe how horrible I felt this book was. First, I was somehow under the impression that it was a WWII novel, so that was a disappointment to begin with. I really felt like the theme of this novel was how to survive life's trials and difficulties by masturbating. Someone please tell me if I am way off here.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Carol

    This is one of the most depressing and heartbreaking true-life novels I've ever read so be forewarned, this Pulitzer Prize winner is pretty tough to take.In the beginning, Francis (Frank) McCourt's family story starts out so desperate, you think it can't get any worse, BUT....IT....DOES!Frankie had a very short and dreadful childhood in Limerick, Ireland. Even at age four with only the clothes (rags) on his back, he had adult responsibilities caring for his twin baby brothers, changing and This is one of the most depressing and heartbreaking true-life novels I've ever read so be forewarned, this Pulitzer Prize winner is pretty tough to take.In the beginning, Francis (Frank) McCourt's family story starts out so desperate, you think it can't get any worse, BUT....IT....DOES!Frankie had a very short and dreadful childhood in Limerick, Ireland. Even at age four with only the clothes (rags) on his back, he had adult responsibilities caring for his twin baby brothers, changing and washing dirty diapers by hand (with no coal to heat the water), taking them to the park (ordered to keep them away until dark) and trying desperately to entertain them so they will stop crying.......of starvation! With no sheets or blankets on the lice and flea-ridden mattress plus the sewage that often overflowed into the kitchen, it is a wonder that any of Angela's six? (I lost count) children survived. (view spoiler)[(some sadly did not) (hide spoiler)] I think if I would have had to read one more episode about daddy picking up his dole money at the Labor Exchange on Friday and proceeding to drink it ALL away AGAIN I truly would have thrown this book across the room!!! (and I dearly love my books), but thankfully this non-fiction nightmare came to an end...at least for me.Frank McCourt lived until the age of 78 and does have a sequel to this novel, "TIS", that continues his life story in America for those interested. (The significance of the title "Angela's Ashes" was not what I thought it would be)

  25. 4 out of 5

    M is for Mallory

    I can't put this down! I'm getting such a dark kick out of Frank McCourt's childhood. Favorite line that had me laughing out loud: "Oy, you Irish. You'll live forever but you'll never say challah like a Chew." I'm devastated this book is ending; it's been the most pleasurable part of my days over the past week. It's of course depressing, I mean, like he says in opening "Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhoood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic I can't put this down! I'm getting such a dark kick out of Frank McCourt's childhood. Favorite line that had me laughing out loud: "Oy, you Irish. You'll live forever but you'll never say challah like a Chew." I'm devastated this book is ending; it's been the most pleasurable part of my days over the past week. It's of course depressing, I mean, like he says in opening "Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhoood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood." I find myself adjusted to the constant string of tragedy after tragedy, the constant cruelty of the adults around him, and the constant poverty of his neighborhood simply because it's constant. He adjusts and so does the reader. Also, he obviously lives to tell the tale, so I think I may take subconscious comfort in this.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    Couldn't bear it. Whiney, self-obsessed and smacked of disingenuity. Using misery, either yours (imagined) or others (purloined) to make money seems to be the height/depth of cheap shots. Someone once told me of a review of the book that they had read somewhere 'Baby born, baby died, baby born, baby died, baby born, baby died, baby born, baby died; it rained'. Admittedy there was more to it than that, however I read it a long time ago and the gloom of the misery and rain hangs still over the whole Couldn't bear it. Whiney, self-obsessed and smacked of disingenuity. Using misery, either yours (imagined) or others (purloined) to make money seems to be the height/depth of cheap shots. Someone once told me of a review of the book that they had read somewhere 'Baby born, baby died, baby born, baby died, baby born, baby died, baby born, baby died; it rained'. Admittedy there was more to it than that, however I read it a long time ago and the gloom of the misery and rain hangs still over the whole thing in a ridiculously hyperbolic manner. The father, an irresponsible drunken wastrel I just wanted to hit about the head quite dramatically with anything I could lay my hands on and the mother, an horrendous slatterny doormat, I found massively unsympathetic . I can only think of one character who i warmed to and as i remember she was dying of something or other. Did not enjoy this and that was not because it brought me into contact with the suffering and misery of my fellow human beings which I couldn't bear to see but because it didn't. It did not ring true and was a sounding gong or clanging cymbal, making lots of noise but very little sense.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jojo

    I just love it when I come across a book as beautiful and extraordinary as this one. As I had already watched the film of "Angela's Ashes" I knew this was going to be somewhat bleak, but I had no idea just what an amazing book this would turn out to be. Frank McCourt describes a childhood that is ridden with poverty. He made me cry, he made me angry, he made me happy and he even made me laugh. The book is harrowing, but the humour in this book is uplifting, and one cannot help but smile. My heart I just love it when I come across a book as beautiful and extraordinary as this one. As I had already watched the film of "Angela's Ashes" I knew this was going to be somewhat bleak, but I had no idea just what an amazing book this would turn out to be. Frank McCourt describes a childhood that is ridden with poverty. He made me cry, he made me angry, he made me happy and he even made me laugh. The book is harrowing, but the humour in this book is uplifting, and one cannot help but smile. My heart went out to the McCourt family, and the sorrows they had to endure. I must admit, it was tremendously difficult to read about Frank's father, who was an alcoholic, that regularly spent every penny he had in pubs, instead of bringing home the wages to feed his (ever growing) family. It made me sigh in utter dismay, and I cannot quite get my head around an adult, who would rather put his needs first, instead of feeding his starving family. Frank McCourt is entirely masterful with this words, and he had me hooked from the first page. I'm only sad that that the book ended, and rather unexpectedly at that.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Connie

    Let me cut to the chase and say that this is heartbreaking. My first McCourt book I was thrilled that the author himself narrated the audio and in all his Irish glory it made it so much more! I am pleased that I chose this as my introduction to this writer, as I feel I will now have a better understanding of his ambition and how his childhood made him view the world and people around him. Heartbreakingly sad due to the horrible poverty and surroundings, I was amazed at how humorous this memoir Let me cut to the chase and say that this is heartbreaking. My first McCourt book I was thrilled that the author himself narrated the audio and in all his Irish glory it made it so much more! I am pleased that I chose this as my introduction to this writer, as I feel I will now have a better understanding of his ambition and how his childhood made him view the world and people around him. Heartbreakingly sad due to the horrible poverty and surroundings, I was amazed at how humorous this memoir actually was. The Irish are a hearty people and McCort is a true example of that! His style is lyrical...even with the run on thoughts and conversations that a young McCort spews. We follow his story from a young boy, with adult responsibilities to a young man setting out on his own. This is a story of his desire for something better, which the reader knows he achieved if you are aware of this writer. This story however is only the first chapter of what I imagine was a life and outlook formed by these early years. I look forward to continuing his journey.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Emer (A Little Haze)

    This is probably the most unpopular of all my unpopular bookish opinions considering how this is supposed to be some sort of literary masterpiece or whatever... but ughhhhh, this book... Maudlin, over-sentimentalised, disingenuous, miserable, clichéd hack. It sent me into a five year book slump, or more accurately a phase of book avoidance, such was my abject experience reading it. If anyone ever asks me the question what among all the hundreds and hundreds of books you have read is the one that This is probably the most unpopular of all my unpopular bookish opinions considering how this is supposed to be some sort of literary masterpiece or whatever... but ughhhhh, this book... Maudlin, over-sentimentalised, disingenuous, miserable, clichéd hack. It sent me into a five year book slump, or more accurately a phase of book avoidance, such was my abject experience reading it. If anyone ever asks me the question what among all the hundreds and hundreds of books you have read is the one that you wish you hadn't because you disliked it so much... It's this one.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Madeline

    Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood. This book is kind of like that bit in A Chorus Line where the director is making everyone tell him about their childhoods and the one guy goes, "Nobody wants to admit they had a happy childhood." There are two instances where this statement is extremely true: show business, and memoir writing. Angela's Ashes (which is apparently the first in a series?) chronicles Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood. This book is kind of like that bit in A Chorus Line where the director is making everyone tell him about their childhoods and the one guy goes, "Nobody wants to admit they had a happy childhood." There are two instances where this statement is extremely true: show business, and memoir writing. Angela's Ashes (which is apparently the first in a series?) chronicles the childhood and adolescence of Frank McCourt, born into a poor Irish family with no money but a surplus of babies. His mother, Angela, does the best she can to prevent her children from starving to death on a daily basis; meanwhile the patriarch of the family is a man who, as Jack Donaghy might say, "belongs in the Smiling Irish Bastard hall of fame." Things aren't good, is what I'm saying. The kids dress in filthy rags, they have to collect coal on the side of the road to heat their depressing shack of a house, the majority of the kids die of some horrible disease, the father insists on drinking every goddamn penny he earns, and Frank just wants to drop out of school so he can get a job and maybe afford a meal every few weeks. Bleak does not begin to cover it. (giant sidebar: did anyone else watch Enlisted? Of course no one did, that's why it got cancelled after one season even thought it was fantastic. Anyway, there's a bit where one of the characters is super depressed so he decides to read Angela's Ashes, to further wallow in misery, and he tells another character, "I'm at the part where he gives a raisin to the boy with no shoes." I watched that part and thought, well obviously the writers made that up, that's just a spot-on parody of the stuff that goes on in miserable memoirs like that. But then I read the book a few weeks later and guys, that scene totally happens. That's the level Frank McCourt is operating at.) Look, I'm not saying Frank McCourt had to put a happy face on his horrible, horrible childhood just to make me less uncomfortable. His memoir is searing and honest, but it is also unrelenting in its bleakness. There are small flashes of happiness here and there, but the book was so overwhelming sad that every time something good happened to the family in this story, my first thought was, "Well, this can't last." Which, actually, is a very Irish-Catholic reaction to have, so congratulations to me for making my ancestors proud. The writing is very good, at least, so all the misery is very well-described and the characters are subtle and well-drawn. The book certainly deserved the Pulitzer it won, although if we're being really honest with ourselves the prize was probably awarded not for the great writing or characters but because the people at the Pulitzer awards get giant literary boners for misery porn like this. Realistically, I should give this four stars, because I liked the book, but I'm docking a point because of the ending. Without giving anything away, it's just too abrupt. Nothing gets resolved, there's no sense of a conclusion, it's just like McCourt got tired of the book and said, "Well, let's just stop here" and then it ends. It was not satisfying, and not worth all the misery I went through to get to the end.

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