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Born to recent Irish immigrants in New York, Frank McCourt and his little brothers saw a depression job market and the death of their little sister send their parents into a state of despair and disillusionment with the good old USA. And so it was that his family ended up back on the boat, to return to Limerick, Ireland, where things were much, much...
Indeed, "worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood," writes Frank McCourt. And "worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood."
McCourt delivers more than these words promise and we are all at once touched and amazed that any human, any child could have survived it at all.
A father, loving, tender and often jovial, yet perpetually drunk, so addicted to the drink that he devours the food, shoe, rent and baby's milk money time and time again. A mother so out of her mind from loss that she is paralyzed to do anything more than bring more starving children into the world.
Teachers with their own lost dreams and full of spite, an unforgiving church, angry relatives, friends and neighbors who are alive one moment and swept away with the galloping consumption the next.
Unsettling though all this may be, and as freely as our tears fell on certain pages, so did we burst into laughter on many others. (It would be cruel to spoil the surprises).
Speaking in the voice of young Frankie, McCourt draws us into a child's world, with all the endearing innocence, hope and comical perceptions that only a child can have. His guileless tone, Irish wit, accidental humor and occassional pathos transport us so completely into the story that we forget the time, our own troubles, and ourselves, completely.
Without meaning to, he reminds us that amidst all that is wrong with the world, there is love and hope and great pleasure in small things.
His dream is big, however: a return to America for the better life he knows he can create.
The odds are against him in every way, obstacles around each corner, and yet this boy is anything but bitter. His spirit never falters. And every now and again even the most foreboding of people and circumstances suddenly reveal an unabashed display of humanity. Just when Frankie needs it most.
Provocative, enlightening and inspiring, Angela's Ashes may well be the best book we have ever read. At least we are hard pressed to think of many that compete. This is a debut memoir, exquisitely written, which only adds to our astonishment, awe and yearning for what comes next.
Jennifer & Peter Wipf, your Guide for Immigration Issues
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