Sunday 14 August 2011

Angela's Ashes

"When I look back on my childhood, I wonder how I survived it at all...People everywhere brag and whimper about the woes of their early years, but nothing can compare with the Irish version: the poverty; the shiftless loquacious father; the pious defeated mother moaning by the fire; pompous priests; bullying school masters; the English and the terrible things they did to us for eight hundred long years."

These are Frank McCourt's words taken from his memoir Angela's Ashes.  He masterfully sets the scene and transports the reader back to 1930's Ireland.  His characters are convincing; his dialogue is excellent; his attention to detail is flawless.  He certainly knows how to weave a story.  Mr. McCourt talks about growing up in Limerick in a rowhouse where several families shared one washroom.  He describes how his Protestant Northern Ireland father struggled to get work in Roman Catholic Southern Ireland during the Great Depression.  When he did get work, he drank his pay cheque away in the local pubs and left little for his wife and children.  Frank talks about his long suffering mother who stares into the ashes of the fireplace each day, wondering how she will feed her large family and nurse her malnourished children.  He remembers his First Communion and the excitement of attending a movie that evening at the Lyric Cinema starring James Cagney, the happiest day of his life.  He also recalls his battle with typhoid fever at only 11 years of age.  Frank envies the families who have Sunday dinners with roast beef and starchy potatoes and vegetables and trifle.  He longs for a mattress to sleep on without fleas.  He dreams of shoes without holes.  And when his Dad leaves for a job in England and never returns, he longs for a father figure.  Although Angela's Ashes is painfully sad, Mr. McCourt's sense of humour permeates every page, uplifting the reader.  I'm sure it was his sense of humour which got him through his childhood.  It's a fascinating tale!

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