Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Angela's Ashes

Amazingly I still haven't had to purchase a book since the death of Borders here in Oklahoma City. I continue to visit the bookstore of mom. Where does she get all these books? My latest theft is "Angela's Ashes" (364 pages) by Frank McCourt. From the book's jacket:

"'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 luminous 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 does nurture in Frank an appetite for the one thing he can provide: a story.

Perhaps it is a story that accounts for Frank's survival. Wearing rags for diapers, begging a pig's head for Christmas dinner, and searching the pubs for his father, 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" has to be one of the most depressing books I've ever read. Following McCourt's childhood journey of poverty from Brooklyn to Ireland and back to America in the 1930's and 40's is truly an ordeal and sometimes hard to read. Having said that, "Angela's Ashes" is also one of the funniest books I've read as well. McCourt presents several of his memories as a confused child unsure what's going on and slowly the stories evolve along with his age and maturity.

There's not really a whole more I can say about a memoir. Essentially we are taken on a journey through McCourt's childhood where he suffers through extreme poverty, the Catholic Church, and an extended family with sometimes less than good intentions. The author's wit and charm makes this tale of woe a more positive experience. Highly recommended.

If I hear the term "Jesus, Mary, and the Holy Joseph" one more time I might convert to Catholicism!

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