on 27 July 2006
What more is there to say about Angela's Ashes?
When I bought the book I thought I must be just about the only person in the world not to have read it - and that's probably true. I had no idea what it was about or what to expect - I suppose I thought it was about some girl called Angela!
What I found instead was a truly moving, originally crafted and personal account of an extremely fascinating childhood in the face of extreme poverty and family troubles.
Frank McCourt is a young catholic boy growing up in Ireland during the second world war. His father is an alcoholic and the family are practically destitute, living in extremely grim conditions and surviving on charity handouts and the generosity of others.
Though Frank's father clearly loves his children he is unable to control his overpowering desire to drink away what little money the family has - literally leaving his wife and children on the verge of starvation awaiting his return at home.
The prose is written in a way which some might find difficult to read at first, but in fact this purposely `amateurish' style perfectly reflects the innocence of young Frank and serves to endear the reader even further to his plight. He is incredibly honest and allows the reader an insight into even the most personal and private aspects of his childhood.
Though the circumstances of the McCourt family life may sound incredibly depressing what emerges most strongly is the incredible positivity of young Frank to turn his life into something better. In the face of everything, he is able to find such joy when life so rarely turns in his favour and the sense of love and loyalty to his mother and brothers is truly touching.
I have also read the follow up to this book, Tis, which documents Frank's life after he finally achieves his dream of emigrating to America and the promise of prosperity, work and all the food he can eat. Of course, it's not all quite as easy as that. If, like me, Angela's Ashes made you wanting more, then I'd certainly recommend a read of this sequel too.
on 17 November 2001
When I saw this story in film format I enjoyed it but when I came across it in the college library I thought I'd give it ago and I've never enjoyed a book as much as this! It's the true story about poverty stricken Ireland in the 30's and how the author himself battled starvation, dying siblings and an alcoholic father but always managed to get through it without any complaint. It's heart wrending but funny and it's so touching it'll make you cry. I didn't want it to end and was quite gutted when I'd finish reading. It's an excellent novel and it makes you wish you could dive right into it and help him through his tough childhood. It's fantastic and to not read it would be to miss out on a piece of history which deserves to be known world wide. I'm glad this book was written and I'm glad he wrote a follow up "'Tis" which I'm definately going to read! Please read it. You'll love it!!!
on 19 October 1998
This is a great book. It is an absorbing narrative and the style of writing draws you in and leads you along in a manner so smooth and fluid that before you know where you are its 3 a.m. and you still don't want to put it down. The characters are memorable, there are great passages to make you laugh, and the use of language is engaging and true.
While reading this book I had to keep reminding myself that Frank McCourt is a real person, his family and friends were real people, this all really happened - and not so long ago. The subject matter at first glance may make you think it is going to be a depressing read - parts of it are, other parts are very funny. Certainly, you will experience a strong emotional response at how some people had to live at that time in Limerick (and other places), and despair at the consequences that can bring. But the overall impression I was left with is one of inspiration in the human spirit embodied in Frank McCourt who survived it all to record his early family life in this important social record, disguised as a wonderful book.
For those who complain today that they have had a "deprived childhood", and sometimes use this to justify why they are in some situation in their adult life ... I think they should read this book to know what "deprived" can really mean, and how ultimately you can make your own life with determination, persistence, and good humour, and that these qualities are available to all - even little kids in the back lanes of the poorest part of town.
on 9 June 2005
this book is astounding ! it is the most emotional, funny, tragic and moving book that i have ever read, and remains to be my favorite book of all time. i read an awful lot, and as frequent readers all know, when you put a book down with in 5-10 mins, your mind is elsewhere on your own life again. But Angela's ashes refused to exit my mind. it was so desperatley sad, i will agree with another reviewer, that i feel i could not possibly moan about any little flaw in my life after readin ghits.
you MUST read this
on 1 June 2004
This book is wonderful. I didnt know anything about this book before i began reading it, I read it because it was on my dads shelf and it said 'pultizer prize winner' on the cover. I began it, believing it was a work of fiction. One day while reading it, i discovered it was a memoir and I could not believe that the story was true. It is a story of suffering, and I feel it exentuates the idea that if you suffer badly in your life, you have two choices; you become a good person or you become a bad person. You can let misfortune warp you or shape you.
People sometimes take things too much on face value. Having experienced terrible things does not make you a better person, you choose your way out of misfortune. You choose the better or worse of the evil. You choose the path which builds you up or tears you down.
This book shines as an example of good character. The hero is likeable, admirable, honest and challenging. Someone to respect and learn from. A wonderful book, written by a wonderful man.
on 31 August 1999
After fighting of my sister and mother to finally read this book I could see why I was forced to wait 2 months to even get close to it. Telling the story of an irish americans life in america and ireland it maintains it's wit and charm while dealing with harsh issues like poverty hunger and alcholics by looking at them through a childs eyes. Frank McCourt is a real talent, weaving a majestical and superb tale that will have you gripped from start to finish. The charecters draw you in and you long to find out about there lives and what is to become of them. Especially little franky the anti-hero of our story and his brothers and sisters. Overall a great read about ireland that doesn't involve the IRA or Sinn Fein and is funny and sad all in one. GREAT
on 11 March 2012
One of the best books of the 1990s-this beautifully written memoir tells of the suffering of a poverty stricken childhood in Ireland of the 1930s and 40s-written in such a way that it captures the sadness of the suffering of the family, and yet retains a seismic wit that will make you cry and laugh in turn.
Always written from the point of view of the child and teenager Frankie, at the age he is at the time, never from the perspective of an older man looking back, this is a book you wont want to put down and will stay with you forever.
This book takes you from the eraluest memories of the auhtor as a toddler to the angst and burgeoning sexuality of his teens.
Frank is the son of a alcoholic father who squanders the few wages he ever gets on drink (while making his children swear to die for Ireland), and a mother who struggles to keep the family together. It begins with his life until he is four in New York during the Great Depression, and then the family's return to the greater depression of their homeland, Ireland, where they live on a tiny government dole, and the charity of begrudging relatives.
what makes this memoir so compelling is how the author juggles the different emotions, always with a ready wit, which makes this book a classic, and yet always at the same time displaying to pathos and misery of the Ireland of this era.
McCourt describes the loss of his baby sisters with heart wrenching realism. He has three more brothers, the more charming and easy going Malachy, the king hearted Michael who brings home beggars and stray dogs to the family's humble abode, and the youngest Alphie.
Always pervasive is the grinding poverty, the oppressive and guilt-inducing all pervading presence of the Catholic church and education system ,and the fierce patriotism and resentment at Realm of the time of the 800 years of English domination and cruelty.
But what always shines through is the refusal to forget the humour and hope, the appreciation of small things and nature, through such crushing circumstances, and always the hope. The memoir closes with the realization of Frank's dream and goal to emigrate back to the America of his birth. Ultimately it is a book of the life of life, and refusal to ever be sunk by circumstances-what makes it more inspiring is a true life story of the authors' childhood.
on 14 October 2004
I read this book and throughly enjoyed it.
Frankie, born in America is brought back to Ireland at the age of four by his parents, Angela and Malachy. Frankie is the eldest of many siblings, some of whom sadly didn't make it past childhood.
Set in Limerick, Ireland, this book gives a compelling account of what is was like to live in poverty, though the eyes of an extremely bright, intelligent child. Frankie has to deal with berevement at an early age, the usual childhood troubles at school, along with worrying about if his father would bring home money to clothe and feed him and his family.
A heart rendering read that at times, is also quite humurous. I would recommend this to anyone.
on 10 December 2008
Angela's Ashes is a poignant, funny and cynical memoir of Frank McCourt's poverty-stricken childhood, drawing together the sadness of loss and the craziness of the society within which McCourt grew up.
Written with a child's-eye view of the world, at times the narrative makes a dry distanced commentary on the complications of adulthood, with an innocent attempt to understand difficulties that are sometimes hard to explain as an adult. The hardships caused by unemployment, class-divide, alcohol, catholic dogma and politics are among those the bewildered young Frankie has to understand and negotiate, with his elders often maintaining a confusing silence around certain issues.
Although I could empathise with Frankie's grief, and laugh at his childish gaucheness, but more so at the ridiculous social structures to which we all conform to a greater or lesser degree, there was something missing in this book. I can't quite put my finger on what it was, maybe I'm jaded by the recent trend towards similar memoirs of childhood hardship, maybe it was the relentless unbalanced nature of the hardship, without the alleviating factor of any cheer. Maybe it's just me and personally I need the balance of happy against the unhappiness, however even though this is a memoir, it seemed somehow that the relentless unhappiness lacked a point.
on 14 September 2000
When the film of this book came out there was a lot of hype about it and I am afraid I tend to react against hype rather than for it. Nevertheless, I am a big fan of Irish stories and I am happy that I swallowed my prejudice and bought and read this book.
I am afraid there is no point becoming bleary eyed about this story: it is a raw story of some very poor people living what can only be described as a wretched existence. Life is raw, the language is raw and the overall situation is raw.
We are taken from the USA to Ireland on the back of the Great Depression to what can only be described as an Even Greater Depression. Frank is the narrator and therefore the main character; and he tells us all about his family and his circumstances all the way through to his manhood. We learn about his father: an Ulsterman who regularly drinks away the tiny amount of money the family has; and who wants his boys to fight for Ireland's cause. We learn about Frank's mother, Angela, who floats from being absolutely desperate to being a tower of strength. There are also the siblings: the ones who survived and the ones who didn't.
We are told about housing conditions that must be impossible for us to imagine let alone survive living in. There is a daily diet that consisted of bread and tea and precious little else. There are also relatives who are presented as hard, uncaring and lacking sympathy: we have to bear in mind that these people were suffering too; and appreciating that should help us to tolerate them more.
I was a bit surprised that although there is a lot of humour in the book, there wasn't much childish glee and happiness coming through. Despite the wretched existence that the family went through, children do tend to remember sunshine and laughter from their childhoods and this element is missing. If it genuinely was missing, then I think that Frank has done very well to get to the stage where he has been able to go to University, graduate, work as a high school teacher and write this book.
As I was around two thirds of the way through this book I started to think that there shouldn't be any sequels to it: this is a stand alone story. However, there is a sequel whose title is the final word of this book "'Tis", reflecting Frank's very interesting reintroduction to the land of the free.
Despite the epithets on the book's cover, this is not a romantic story, this is not a story that we should pretend to empathise with; and it is not a story that we should ignore. Frank McCourt has written a book that should awaken a reality in us that poverty, misery and depression don't only belong to distant history and in the slums of Calcutta and Rio de Janeiro and Harlem: they can be a lot nearer than we think.