Published by Scribner on May 25, 1999
“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—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.
Frank McCourt’s Memoir focuses on his childhood living in Ireland during the 1930s. His father drinks away the dole money and has Frank and his brothers swearing to die for Ireland every night, because of this, the McCourts live in poverty living on borrowed time and money and the goodness of the St. Vincent de Paul. His mother Angela, for which the book is named, despite dire circumstances stays with her husband in spite of his faults. Even though, he must deal with the aftermath of his father’s drunken consequences losing siblings to the damp of Ireland and doing nothing short of begging for milk and bread while also being thrifty with the monies they are able to save. Even though Frank McCourt’s childhood was filled with trials and tribulation he managed to stand up on his own two feet and write with humor and wit so the reader never felt sorry for him.
I first read Angela’s Ashes soon after it came out and was incredibly moved by it and at the time I had never read anything like it. I reread it recently and sadly was not as impressed as I had previously been. I think this is because in the past 10+ years since its publication numerous memoirs have come out i.e. The Glass Castle saturating the market making Frank McCourt’s break through novel passe. This time, I felt that his voice was almost detached from the story with a very matter of fact tone and for whatever reason wasn’t as captivating. Angela’s Ashes was still a fabulous book but just didn’t hold the same spark as it had before.