Book Review: Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt


Book: Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt
Published: Simon & Schuster, 1996
Genre: Non-Fiction/ Memoir
Buy It: Amazon

Summary from Goodreads: "When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I managed to survive at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood." So begins the luminous memoir of Frank McCourt, born in Depression-era Brooklyn to recent Irish immigrants and raised in the slums of Limerick, Ireland. Frank's mother, Angela, has no money to feed the children since Frank's father, Malachy, rarely works, and when he does he drinks his wages. Yet Malachy -- exasperating, irresponsible and beguiling -- does nurture in Frank an appetite for the one thing he can provide: a story. Frank lives for his father's tales of Cuchulain, who saved Ireland, and of the Angel on the Seventh Step, who brings his mother babies.
Perhaps it is story that accounts for Frank's survival. Wearing rags for diapers, begging a pig's head for Christmas dinner and gathering coal from the roadside to light a fire, Frank endures poverty, near-starvation and the casual cruelty of relatives and neighbors -- yet lives to tell his tale with eloquence, exuberance and remarkable forgiveness.
Angela's Ashes, imbued on every page with Frank McCourt's astounding humor and compassion, is a glorious book that bears all the marks of a classic.

My thoughts:

Angela’s Ashes is the true story of Frank McCourt's life in America and Ireland during World War II. Frank was born in America along with his brother, Malachy, the twins Oliver and Eugene, and the baby Margaret. The family cannot afford to feed all of the children because Mr. McCourt has trouble finding work and squanders all his money away in the pubs. After a short time in the states, the family goes back to their homeland in Ireland to try to get back on their feet and have help caring for the children. 
I can't think of a memoir that I haven't enjoyed and Angela's Ashes is no exception. Even though most memoirs are ridden with pain and suffering, I find the writing style to be very quick and easy to read. I don't feel like I have the right to judge the life of another human being which makes it hard to give a star rating to a book like Angela's Ashes. The struggles that are presented to the reader in this memoir are heartbreaking. The poor children are starving and the loss of a child sadly becomes almost a regular occurrence for the McCourts. I loved Frankie’s strength and perseverance to find a way to help his family when his father was not living up to his fatherly duties. Frankie managed to keep his childlike innocence despite how quickly he was forced to grow up and he was always thinking about the well being of his family before his own. It was hard to believe that this is a memoir because the story was told in great detail. The memories McCourt has from his childhood play out on the pages like a movie. The children wearing rags for clothes and the babies not even having clothes to wear because they can't keep them clean, it's no wonder they were struggling to stay healthy. It made me so angry to read about a father neglecting his family in such a way. He was murdering his own children in a sense so that he could support his drinking habit. Then he would go home drunk in the night and impregnate his wife yet again. Another mouth that will be neglected.
I did feel as though I’d been a bit mislead on the title of the book. I was waiting for a story about his mother’s passing and him doing something with her ashes. I thought the ending was a bit abrupt. I would have liked to know more about Frank’s journey to America and what became of his family. However, it did end on a good note and maybe that was the point. Apparently there is a sequel called 'Tis, which I'm going to have to check out. I would recommend everyone read Angela’s Ashes if you haven’t already. There are shelves full of books about life during the war in Nazi Germany but very few on what it was like in other countries. Times were tough all over Europe and this deeply moving memoir is a good example of that.

The verdict: 3 stars 


  1. I love memoirs and I've never heard of this one-looks really good. I'll have to see if my library has it :) I definitely agree with what you said about the writing style of memoirs being quick and easy to read. I read a memoir (in french) of a treblinka survivor and it was the fastest I've ever read a French book. The author was very straight forward about everything that happened. Very sad but I loved it.

  2. Kelly, I never really read any memoirs until A Million Little Pieces came out and then I went through a phase where I was hooked on them. Kind of funny that a book that turns out to not really even be a completely true story would be what hooks me. Definitely read this if you can find it at your library!