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on 8 January 2014
If you think you are going to read Philomena's story - You are wrong. This is Michael Hess ( Antony) story. It centres on his journey through life feeling rejected and alone. He embarks on a career in Law which takes him to the Whitehouse, rubbing shoulders with the President, and partying in Gay Bars, progressing to a life that includes a sordid and depraved side, often pushing aside those that come to love him and selling out fellow friends and associates that are homesexual to further his career, and save himself from public humiliation.You have every sympathy for his situation, and his lost identity, but he did have a good family, a mum who loved him, and a sister that shared his past and present life.His attempts to find his real Mum were rather half hearted in my opinion, and he didn't really appreciate the love and education that his adoptive family provided.
It is an emotive subject, and I really wanted to read Philomena's story and how it affected her. Unfortunately this book does not cover her story at all. Maybe I will have to watch the film, but I do feel the title of the book is misleading.
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on 27 April 2014
As a person who was interviewed for this book and who appears as a “character” in it, I believe this book should be categorized as fiction. The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, written by Martin Sixsmith, was originally published in 2009. After the success of the movie Philomena, the book was reissued with a new title. By now, everyone knows that the book tells the tragic story of Philomena Lee, who had an illegitimate child in the early 1950s while living at an abbey run by nuns in Ireland. An American couple adopted her son, Anthony Lee, when he was 3 years old and renamed him Michael Hess. Philomena and Michael were stymied in their search to find each other by the nuns’ refusal to give them information.

About 7 years ago, Michael’s partner (called Pete in the book) referred me to a journalist who was trying to pitch a book based on the story of Michael’s birth mother’s search for her son. Following Pete’s lead, I agreed to speak to Martin Sixsmith about my friendship with Michael. He recorded our 2-hour conversation. Pete expected to hear from Sixsmith if the book proposal ever came to fruition.

When the book appeared without prior notice to Pete or me in 2009, I was appalled to find that Sixsmith had written a fictional version of Michael’s life in which characters engage in conversations that never happened. Because the book received consistently bad reviews in the British newspapers, I decided not to write a review, hoping that the book would fade from view. That is exactly what happened until Steve Coogan read the 2009 newspaper article by Sixsmith and the rest is history.

I cringed when I read my “character” engaging in fictional dialogue with Michael. Things only went downhill from there. The dialogue that Sixsmith invented for the conversations Michael and I supposedly had were not quotes from the interview I gave, and I did not agree to my interview being turned into scenes with made-up dialogue. Michael is dead and cannot verify these conversations or, for that matter, any of the conversations he is purported to have had throughout the book.

Inaccuracies abound. I met Michael when he hired me to work for him in December of 1977. The book has me engaging in fictional conversations during 1975 and 1976 with Michael about his boyfriend Mark, and even having conversations with Mark about Michael’s supposedly dark moods and behavior. I think the author created these events to support his premise that Michael was a troubled and tortured soul because he could not find his birth mother and because he was required to hide his sexuality at his place of work. This was the 1980s and there were very few gay men or woman who were “out” at work.

The fiction continues. I did not discuss politics with Michael during this time period and never talked about supporting Carter. Also, Sixsmith has Michael moving in with me to “recover” from too much partying. Not true. The many purported conversations in which I provide advice to Michael about his love life or work problems simply did not occur. Like most good friends, I did a lot of listening and nodding.

It is really difficult for those of us who knew Michael to see him portrayed so poorly. He was smart, charming, good looking and thoughtful. Michael always went out of his way to make his friends’ birthdays special. For 10 years, he took my daughter and me to many Christmas tree lots in search of the perfect tree.

Michael was a great boss and mentor who taught me so much about legal research and writing and encouraged me to take on difficult and challenging assignments. He was a terrific writer and speaker. These talents and a lot of hard work contributed to his successful career.

Pete and other friends have tried to correct Sixsmith’s depiction of Michael as a tortured soul in recent articles that appeared in The New York Times and Politico. They stress his long-term relationship with Pete and his multifaceted interests, which ranged from following Notre Dame sports to predicting the best new Broadway musicals to his prodigious gardening.

Between the made-up dialogue and almost prurient focus on Michael’s sexual behavior, the author has failed to present anything near a recognizable picture of Michael Hess. While I can only speak definitively to the information that I gave Sixsmith and my knowledge of Michael, the book contains other conversations that can’t possibly be sourced because the people are dead. If you plan to read the book, be aware that you will be reading fiction and, not very well written fiction, at that.
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on 4 August 2014
I loved the beginning of this book with the descriptions of Philomena in the convent with her new baby, Anthony. It was so Irish, it was moving and it was heartbreaking. From the moment Anthony left, I longed for them to be reunited.

Having finished the book, I find the description a little deceiving. Philomena isn't the tale of the search of a mother for the son she was forced to give away, and once the adoption has actually taken place it isn't even the story of Philomena. I would have loved to have known more about Philomena's own quest and her life after Anthony was taken from her. However, Philomena does not actually feature again until the very end of the book. I guess the original title to the book, The Lost Child of Philomena Lee: A Mother, Her Son and a Fifty Year Search is slightly more accurate, but not totally.

I was constantly waiting and expecting "the search" to begin. Anthony (who subsequently becomes Mike) visits Ireland twice, but I cannot really describe what he does there as searching for his mother. Yes, within the book he talks about finding his mother, and it is clear that he wants to, but his actions are not what I would call "a lifelong search for his mother".

As this is what I had been expecting from the book, I did begin to find the seemingly endless life story of Anthony/Mike a little repetitive and tedious after a while. The book is heavily based on his life as a gay man and his career, leading to a focus on a homosexual lifestyle and American politics. Whilst it was interesting, it isn't what I had entirely expected, and I just wanted that little bit extra from it.

That said, I must emphasize that I really did enjoy the book as a whole. It sounds as though I did not as I seem to have so many niggles but I really did.

The major flaw with this particular version of the book (and this is not the author's fault at all) and one that my mum was extremely unhappy about, is that of the photographs that feature in the middle of the book. Some of these photos ruin the ending to the book, and for my mum, who didn't know the outcome, it ruined the book. I had a heads up so didn't look at the photographs until after I had finished the book, but had I not known, I too would have been angered to discover the ending only part way through the book. So if you're reading this version of the book, and you haven't seen the film, beware.....
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on 23 March 2014
I found this book a compelling read. From the moment I picked it up, I found it hard to put down. I liked the style of writing and the sensitive portrayal of the characters meant it was easy to be drawn in. It wasn't Philomena's story, however, it was her son's, but his struggles and the prejudices he faced throughout his life provided a harrowing tale made all the more poignant by the fact it was a true story. I challenge any reader not to empathise with Philomena and the love she had for her son, living in constant dread that he would be taken from her. The manner of his removal and what could possibly have gone through the mind of such a young child at that time still brings a lump to my throat and causes me to hold my children that little bit tighter.

I don't want to say much more and spoil people's reading but Anthony/Michael's story is a real education in prejudice and the struggles of one man who couldn't conform in an unforgiving society. I was appalled at the narrow minded and medieval attitudes of the Catholic Church, American society and political institutions. I think there was an element of bias from the author towards the Church, Michael's adoptive father and some others but that is for people to decide themselves.

This is an excellent book and I recommend it to all.
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on 6 March 2014
The book gives so much more information and insight into the life of Anthony Lee. The sad toll that his perceived rejection had upon Anthony's life is sensitively explored and one is left feeling so sad that he never knew of his mother's continued longing and the quest to find him.
The book is also a secondary source of historical information about the prejudice and at best ambivalence experienced by the gay community in America particularly with the advent of HIV and AIDS.
Last but not least is the important story that needed to be told of the Church's role in exploiting young women and their babies as recently as the 1960s and 70s.
Thank you to Martin Sixsmith and to Philomena for giving us this truly heart wrenching book.
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on 22 January 2014
Anyone buying this book expecting to read a account of a mother's search for her lost son, either on the basis of its title or after seeing the film, should prepare themselves to be hugely disappointed and frustrated. With the exception of a few pages at the end it does not tell the story of Philomena Lee's search for Anthony/Michael. The book is essentially a biography of Michael Hess but it is written almost in the style of a novel. The style is the other issue I have because it results in much of the content taking the form of surmised situations and conversations rather than providing a documentary narrative of Michael's life.
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on 23 July 2014
I have already seen the film twice, and I found that the book filled in all or most of the blanks about how the children fared with their adoptive parents, and gave a much more informative insight into their adult lives, Mary, with her husband and family, and Anthony renamed Michael by his adoptive parents, his life although succesful as far as academia was concerned and his employment within the political situation in the USA. I also felt that it gave a tremendous insight into the turmoils which he suffered because of his mother giving him up, was that really true, or could he find her and speak to her to have so many questions answered. The narrative concerning his personal lifestyle which sadly ended in AIDS was extremely interesting and gave an insight into the American Government's attitude towards homosexuality and the ensuing.health problems. I purchased the book because I had thoroughly enjoyed the film with it's excellent cast and fully expected it to be the narrative of the movie, instead I found that I had purchased a concise and interesting book which showed up the problems in Ireland with regard to unmarried pregnancies and the problems for the mothers and their babies at that time in recent history, and a very forthright and revealing narrative about American political happenings and the effect on members of the public who were homophobic, and the in depth cover of Michael/Anthony's life, a very emotional read. It wasn't what I expected to read when I purchsed the Kiindle edition of Philomena, but what a tremendous read it turned out to be, and I am so glad that I have been filled in on all the parts which the film omitted
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on 17 January 2014
I watched the film which was superb., I needed to read the book which tells this true story in so much more detail than the film. I remember Martin Sixsmith as a superb journalist. He raises the issues of inhuman behaviour over many years by those involved in the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland and the children's homes where pregnant single young girls were taken to give birth. They 'paid for their sins' by slaving on tasks such as working in the laundry. Martin's research leads to the discovery of the adoption of these babies and traces the story of a small boy. Subsequent enquiries led to wilful withholding of information. A second theme is the political system in USA where this boy was taken for adoption and we follow the devious political 'response' to the crisis of HIV/Aids.

There is so much more in the book than the film which should be read by all interested in social and political history, and theology. As a Christian, I am ashamed of the activities carried out in the name of Christ who came to bring Good News to the Poor.and needy. I would recommend 'Nevertheless' by John Kirkby which tells the true story of how he founded "Christians Against Poverty"..
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on 16 February 2014
I saw the film first then bought the book on the strength of it.I was greatly moved by the film because it concentrated on Philomena's desperately sad quest to find her son over many years ,only to discover the highs and the lows of his life with the help of the journalist ,Martin Sixsmith.
The book , initially, told us about her pitiful plight as a young unmarried mother in Ireland ,making one feel fully involved emotionally with her suffering in Roscrea.
Unfortunately, when it moves on to Mike's life in America , after describing his difficult relationship with "Doc" and his feelings about being adopted it becomes bogged down in a huge chunk of the book detailing his adult life . Unless you are interested in the recent history of American politics and the Gay Rights movement then it becomes very slow and tedious,i found myself skipping over this part and I can't remember it featuring very much at all in the film.
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on 11 January 2014
Much more detail about Michael Hess and his sister Mary , less focus on Philomena the Abbey comes out even worse than the film. Have just read Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline - fictional /fact about transporting homeless children from the streets of Manhattan to the mid west US to work on farms and as house slaves
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