123 of 125 people found the following review helpful
on 22 October 2009
I cannot say I am a fan of "misery lit", but I think this book elevates itself above that terribly titled genre. This is heartfelt, genuine and desperately sad. A story of missed opportunity and almost insurmountable grief. The images that are brought brilliantly to life by Sixsmith are that of 2 people so desperate to find each other and every obstacle put in their way. You see an unloving father doing his best to be a family dictator, you picture the most unfeeling nun burning evidence that they sold children to rich Americans and you most of all you see a woman crushed by the hatred and un-Christian ways of Catholic Ireland who refuses to be bitter.
Michael Hess's life was dedicated to finding his place in this world. To understand where you came from is so vital in understanding who you are and where you can go. He was denied this by brutal backwardness and malevolence of the highest level. Sixsmith's book is long but all the better for that as we get a real insight into Michael and his search. What you are left with at the end is not just a story of missed opportunity but something much greater and wonderfully redemptive. My only warning is to not read the last chapter in public; it literally could break your heart. A superb book.
38 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on 3 November 2013
The book is probably too long, telling us too much about American politics. That said, it is an eye-opener in respect of what happened to the children who were forcibly adopted from Irish institutions. The cynicism of the deValera government in handing over control of adoptions to a cruel church for political support is almost beyond belief. If the cruelty of the nuns in those institutions doesn't make you angry, you're not human. If the evil practice of selling the children to American parents doesn't raise your hackles, you're not human. I'm keen to see what the film makes of it.
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on 26 April 2014
I saw the film 'Philomena' before I read this book, which may have been a mistake, although I am not sure about that. When I got to the end of the book, my over-riding feeling was that Martin Sixsmith was not the right journalist to have been given to job of telling this story. The film attacks the story from the point of view of a mother in Ireland in the fifties, who had her son forcibly removed from her when he was three years old and given away in adoption to America. The film charts her journey to try and find him fifty years later. The book, on the other hand, pays little attention to the mother's story, apart from some detail leading up to the child's adoption, and it is all written from the point of view of the son, who was adopted by an American couple, and it follows his rise to an exalted position in the Reagan government as a legal adviser. I expect that Martin Sixsmith had little interest in a relatively uneducated Irish woman, who was just looking for her son. It comes over loud and clear in the book that his fascination was only with the political aspects of the story - probably understandable as he is, after all, a political journalist and one who was in Washington at the time that the son was rising through the political ranks. The book is 420 pages long and I read on and on, expecting it to be a story in two halves - one of the mother and one of the son. However, 405 pages are devoted to what became of the son and a miserly 15 pages rushes through the mother's quest to find her lost son. Why the book is called 'The Lost Child of Philomena Lee' is beyond me. It should have been called 'A biography of Michael Hess' (Anthony Lee became Michael Hess when he was adopted). I get the feeling that the scriptwriter of the film felt the same as me after reading the book and he tried to redress the balance by making the film very much from the point of view of the mother - a good and just move in my opinion. I gave this book three stars because it is very well written. I didn't give it more stars because the book is biased and unbalanced and is, in my view, a let down in the end. My advice is to read the book and also see the film, because that way you probably get a more complete picture of the truth of the story.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 30 July 2014
I was keen to see the film because of all the publicity it had received (not to mention Dame Judy Dench's performance), and was glad I did. Only then, out of curiosity about the details in the film that didn't seem to strike the right note (when the film came out, I'd heard it had taken some important artistic licence and I'm a stickler for detail and accuracy) did I download both the 'original' book and the movie-related one.
As I read beyond the first chapters in which the conditions in the 'Magdalene' laundries were explained, and Philomena lost her son, I became increasingly disappointed at the way the book focused mainly on Michael's - as he became - dysfunctional relationship with his overbearing, autocratic adoptive father. I did like the way the character of his 'sister' Mary was highlighted, the closeness with his adoptive uncle and later on, his political career as it developed - especially knowing that these are historical facts.
However as the book went on, it seemed to focus more and more - unnecessarily in my view - on Michael's homosexuality and his endless exploits, in far too great a detail, while Philomena completely disappeared; we have no idea how her life developed once she left Ross Crea so it was certainly not 'a book in two halves'. Also I was really puzzled by detailed and private conversations allegedly taking place between two people who are - both! - long dead.
I admit, having got halfway through the 450 pages and become a little exasperated at the lack of expected storyline, to having flipped to the end to see where things were headed, and I have not actually finished it yet. But having got as far as I did, I will read to the end although I now have very limited expectations of the story I regarded as presumably being more balanced, accurate and detailed, since it was the basis for the film.
There are still a few elements in the film that jar with me - among other things Mary's character, which does not gel with how she develops in the book, and Philomena's alleged ready acceptance of her son's homosexuality (I believe she's even portrayed as having recognised it in him before he was grown up, when she never saw him again after he was taken away at age 3).
I will be most interested to read the film-related book, if only to see where the principle "why should we let facts stand in the way of a dramatic story?" has been applied!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 4 January 2015
I read the book after having seen the film. This is a very sad story and I have to say that the book was much better than the film and I never read books! As the film was not a true depiction of events I wanted to know the true story. I think that in a story of this nature, based on recent historical facts and real people, it is rather unfair for the film to display the "artistic licence" that it did. If the film had stuck to the true story it could have been wonderful. I could not put the book down and would highly recommend it. The film did not , in my opinion, do justice to the true story. My heart goes out to Philomena and her family, and to Mike's partner who seems to have been a kind soul.
60 of 69 people found the following review helpful
on 21 April 2010
This is a fascinating and harrowing account of a son who was essentially stolen from his mother by the Catholic nuns, and handed over to a 'good Catholic family' in America.
Unlike other books on this subject which are written mostly in memoir form, Martin Sixsmith's book is written as a novel and allows us the reader to meet lots more characters than just mother and son.
Martin Sixsmith's research is painstakingly accurate and includes some excellent background information into the Catholic Church's power and influence in the 1950s and also opens a window to us the reader as to why the government of the time (De Veleras) allowed the Church to wield so much power, and allowed the Church to treat 'fallen women' and their children in such a cruel and terrible way.
Once Michael, Philomena's son, leaves Ireland bound for his new home and adoptive family, we follow his story right through his difficult childhood to rising to the dizzy heights of Chief Counsel for the Republican Party in the Regan/Bush era.
During this time, Michael searches for his mother, and she for him.
As the book is written in the structure and format of a novel, the reader is treated to a variety of characters, views, opinions and again a unique insight to the workings of the US President's office and his powerful legal team.
But ultimately, this is a tragic story of a mother loosing her much loved son, and his mother.
Martin Sixsmith writes beautifully, and it's clear from the very beginning that he cares for his characters - even those we find difficult to like.
This isn't a story/book about the Catholic Church's abuses in Ireland.
It's much more than that. This is a story about Ireland in the 1950s/60s and the Church's treatment of unmarried mothers and their children;
a story about homophobia in the US and the lack of intervention or support of the US Administration for AIDS sufferers in the 1980s/90s;
of a closet gay man working for a homopobhic employer (the US government at the time) and a story of how trying to reconcile his past with his present ultimately destroyed him - and of a mother who has never forgotten her little boy who was taken from him in such a cruel and cold way.
Factually accurate and beautifully written, it also includes many amazing photographs of the characters and places the reader is introduced to.
Worldwide it's difficult to know how many Anthonty and Philomena Lees are out there.
How many children who were taken for adoption by the Catholic Church nuns are today looking for their mothers - and how many mothers are searching for their children?
We'll never know and many will never understand why their search is so desperate and so important.
But what this story confirms is that that even in death, the bond between a mother and her child can never be broken and love will always find a way through.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 14 September 2013
I feel that this was an honest attempt to relate a very sad story of a young woman separated from her child when she had been responsible for some of his care in the convent until he was three years old. In my opinion, this was the most awful aspect for both of them because of the bond which had been built up between them. The pain of separation must have been almost unbearable for the mother and very de-stabilising for the child.
The journalist author was able to track down the details of the actions of the people involved in the adoption transactions, revealing the appalling attitudes on the part of the church personnel and the subsequent lies which were uttered to both the child when he came seeking his birth mother when he was fully adult, and the mother when she desired contact with her first born after many years.
Instead of simply making this into a stick with which to beat the Catholic church, he turned it into an account of the life of the adopted child as seen through the eyes of those who knew him. He wove the content of his interviews into a story, making it come to life, so that his mother could almost partake in his growing up, education, career and love-life. What a beautiful gift! The nearest she ever came to him after the parting was to find his grave in the grounds of the convent.
The format is not without its faults because, as a story, it tends to drags its feet. The reader is anxious to know how it turns out, not learn every step in the young man's career in the political field. We have to realise that the most important audience is his mother and make allowances, but it is for this fault that I have rated it as a four star book.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 16 June 2014
A heartbreaking story about the life of little Anthony Lee aka Michael Hess. I read this book after having watched PHILOMENA in the cinema. The film doesn't do Martin Sixsmith's book any justice. Written in novel style Martin Sixsmith gives the background of Philomena Lee and her little boy Anthony. It also gave a clear insight into the corrupt money hungry Catholic church in Ireland and its trafficking of little children to America. I just couldn't put this wonderful piece of writing down. You are given a clear insight into the life of Anthony aka Michael from birth right up to his death. Reading it brought tears to my eyes and the sad reality that the Catholic Church was not the wonderful religion that I was always lead to believe it was. Its ill treatment and exploitation of young unmarried mothers and treating them like sinners showed that in fact it was the Catholic Church that was the biggest sinner of all. This book is not for the faint hearted. But I would recommend reading it. Thank you Martin Sixsmith for helping to bring to light a corrupt religion that has gone unpunished for far too long.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 5 January 2014
Switching from past to present, Ireland and the USA, this had the potential to be hard to follow, but turned out to be easy. The plight of unmarried mothers on 50's Ireland, forced parting and bought babies, results in a troubled but outwardly successful life. The bitter sweet ending of a mother finding a truly lost son. Extremely well written.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 25 March 2014
Starts really well, very interesting and so sad. An eye opener to the awful 'carry on' in Ireland from people you would normally trust..very upsetting!!!! It builds up a good story..........then for me a bit of a let down. It focuses and goes on far tooooooooooooo much on Philomena's son in his teenage / early 20's and his 'ways'....I won't spoil the story........but I don't see the need to go on and on and into all the unnecessary details!!!! It has a bearing on the story...........but for soooooo long?????? Got a bit boring and I found it hard to carry on reading. Obviously I read it to the end to tie all the ends up. It does tie them up, I found it very very heartbreaking. Those poor women back then suffered greatly. Just hope the film will be better, but I doubt it, the film is never as good as the book.