Book Review: “Angela’s Ashes” by Frank McCourt

I read Frank McCourt’s “Teacherman” before and utterly enjoyed his Irish humor – low key and yet extremely funny. Though born to such poverty, McCourt survived the Catholic, Irish childhood with a fascinating life story to tell. One thing that stands out for me is how he remembered all the small things since 3 years old. If the stories are accurate since his 3 years of age, then he must be truly talented to remember all the minute details. For sure, I don’t remember much from my 7 years of age and before. Or, perhaps, my childhood was not eventful or too comfortable worth remembering.

McCourts’ poverty forced them to live in an apartment where the community lavatory (bathroom) situated next to their kitchen. The family members suffer lots of illness as a result – losing his twin brothers. But the story about staying upstairs in “Italy” (due to its warmness) showed the family’s resourcefulness at a time of hopelessness.

The entire town of Limbrick, where they lived, has some interesting characters: the nuns that would not allow McCourt to talk with a girl during his hospital stay (red fever), the many people who came down with “consumption” (due to dampness and coal mining), the catholic establishment who shut the door on McCourt when he wanted to become an altar boy and requesting to go to secondary school.

Having been born to an irresponsible alcoholic father, he learned first hand that his father was not be trusted to bring home the salary to support his family. His father, a man from the North with “odd manner,” was good at telling all the Irish stories and instituting hatred against the British. The 800 years of mistreatment by the English, as often mentioned in the book, seems to give the Irish lots of excuses of being in poverty. Lots of blaming was going on there.

McCourt wanted to be the man of the family early in his young life that he took on the job of delivering coals but ended up with an eye infection that won’t go away. As soon as he reached 14, McCourt became a message boy delivering telegrams so that he can save money for the trip back to USA. He took odd jobs like writing debt threatening letters, doing some errand jobs for people. His strong desire to get out of Ireland really show throughout the book. It helped to have his employer (the loan shark) dropped dead so he can be a Robinhood to forgive all the debts from all the people in the ledgers and have some of the money for himself.

Some of the funny stories:
– how he tried to blink himself out of the eye infection,
– how his Mom tried to spit on his eyes to rid him of the infection,
– how the messenger boys tried to remove one magazine page that has a condom ad on it and how they tried to profit from re-selling the page for large sum of money.

Some of the sad stories:
– how he saw his young sister, Margaret, died that resulted in his father’s plunge into alcohol again, how his two young twin brothers died one after another,
– how he saw his Dad wasting all the salary on pints when he and the rest of family went starving over the weekend, how he showed his love (when not drunk) and hatred (when drunk) toward his father,
– how he felt regretful and struggled emotionally for sending his first love to eternal damnation (due to their sexual relationship),
– how he struggled through his eye infection throughout his adolescent life just to make money.
– how he saw his mother traded sex (excitement) for their stay in a house.
– how he got slammed on his face twice by the Catholic establishment.

The audio book allows McCourt to sing all the beautiful songs form his childhood – the singing really enhances the readers’ experience. And I must admit he’s a pretty good singer.

Yesterday was the St. Patrick’s Day, a day for the Irish to celebrate their uniqueness and great tradition. Through this book, Frank McCourt helped me understand what being an Irish person is all about and the baggage they carried. A mesmerizing book! I might check out the DVD movie version.