Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

Another $1 library book sale find, this one with an inscription:

Dec ’99

To my dearest Peter –

I know you will love this read.

Triene (Friene? Iriene?)

Your challenge – to read it before the next millennium!

This is the first time my new reading blog has concretely helped me read more: my tally for books read in March was not quite up to snuff, so I pushed to finish this book before the end of the month. The push wasn’t hard though (neither was the shove) because this biography is so absorbing!

The way McCourt uses punctuation (sparingly) and phonetics to elicit a dialect reminds me of True History Of The Kelly Gang by Peter Caray, or the other way around I suppose. It’s a very powerful way of inducing a conversational rapport with the subject of the biography, of feeling like he’s really telling you his story, of hearing everything he’s not saying with his words.

Angela’s ashes were not what I thought they would be.



“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 neighbours – yet lives to tell his tale with eloquence, exuberance and remarkable forgiveness.