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Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt

It’s time to review an absolute favorite of mine, Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt, a tale of growing up in a time when food and shoes were hard to come by and a Christmas present was a penny or a piece of butterscotch. The book, a memoir really, starts when Frank is only three years old and living with his parents and younger brother in poverty-stricken, depression era New York City. Frank is the outcast and eldest son; his brother, Malachy, the adored son; Oliver and Eugene, the twins, always away in their own world; his father a drunk who comes home singing tragic ballads about brave Irishmen and asks his sons, “Do you promise to die for Ireland?”; and his mother, perpetually pregnant, the only person allowing the family to survive together. Tragedy hits the family repeatedly through stillbirths, debt, and deaths and so, when little Frank is only four, the McCourt’s pack their bags and climb aboard a ship back to Ireland. Once there, their troubles only continue as they have to struggle through more deaths of children; they still have no money for shoes or, now, schoolbooks; Frank catches typhus and almost dies; and they are abandoned by their drunken father. The book ends when Frank is 19 and travels back to America in hope of a better life and this next chapter of his life continues in McCourt’s other memoirs, ‘Tis and Teacher Man.
The most interesting thing about the book is how it’s written. When I started it I was a little skeptical of reading a memoir, I’ve always imagined memoirs would simply say “me, me, me!”, what would make this one any different? But this memoir could not be further from that belief. He begins the novel writing in a simple, childlike manner, as a three year old might speak, “My mother tells Mrs. Leibowitz down the hall that Malachy is the happiest child in the world. She tells Mrs. Leibowitz down the hall, Frankie has the odd manner like his father. I wonder what the odd manner is but I can’t ask because I’m not supposed to be listening.” But as the book continues and Frank gets older, so does the language get more mature. As they go through the book, the reader can see Frank grow up and feel him aging as the writing changes from that of a clueless kid concerned about being forgotten by his parents amidst all the McCourt children to that of a struggling teenager, confused over how to be the head of his family, though Frank and the McCourt family aren’t the only ones with struggles. Throughout the book there are people that Frank meets with struggles and hardships greater than his own and these encounters show the true spirit of the Irish which is that they are always sorry for those with struggles bigger than their own but they are always able to find light in any situation, though it is rather difficult to find any light when World War II comes around.
The book is beautiful in all kinds of ways, somber and humorous, unsurprising from an Irish family in the early 20th century. It’s really a story about the adult world through the eyes of a child and how that child comes to accept life’s odd circumstances as he grows up. The theme of growing up is always something we encounter in English class; I only wish this could be one of the books that we would read. It is, in all seriousness, the greatest growing-up tale I have ever had the pleasure of reading. Perhaps we don’t read it because it isn’t quite G-rated, if you get my drift, but when the Irish come to town, can life ever be G-rated?




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MarissaV said...
Sept. 14, 2013 at 8:11 pm:
What chapter, and page is this text from?
 
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