Sunday, June 13, 2010

(Book #20) Frank McCourt - Angela's Ashes

A few days ago, I finished Frank McCourt's memoir Angela's Ashes. It would seem that I am a few weeks behind in this little project, and even more behind in the write-ups. It's one thing to just read something but quite another to process and come up with some sort of response to what was just read. Some books are more difficult than others to process and get your head around all together and take a bit of time to get through. While this book took me almost 3 weeks to read, it was not because the words were too dense or difficult to grasp, but quite the opposite. McCourt recounted his impoverished youth in Ireland through the literary eyes, ears and words of a child, and what resulted was a beautiful mosaic of emotion and experience. The words gushed with such realism that the book couldn't be rushed; it demanded the reader savor every page.

The narrative of the book actually started out in New York when McCourt gives a little background on the characters of his mother and father, almost opposing forces overseeing the Irish Catholic family. Frank's mother, Angela, is a dutiful woman and traditional housewife with the responsibility over the children (whose numbers rise and fall throughout the book). Their father, who cannot hold a job for more than a few weeks, is an alcoholic whose biggest fault is spending the entire paycheck at the pub. When the family is at their financial end, they travel back to Angela's home in Limerick, Ireland in complete desperation; a reversal of the typical story of the immigrant coming to America filled with hope and in search of a new life.

The majority of the book takes place in Ireland and as we read about every trial, tribulation and difficulty that plagues this family, the reader can only hope that their lives will eventually improve. Each chapter of the story only brings more hardship and a new desperate low. Despite all this, Frank and his brothers manage to live out their childhoods in optimism and making the best out of each situation. As gut-wrenching as much of the backdrop is, there is so much humor and wit injected into the story due to the innocent nature of the children and their inherent sense of hope, that the depressing mood of the overall narrative is diminished.

All in all, I thought Angela's Ashes was a beautiful piece of writing that was well deserving of the Pulitzer Prize and any other accolades it received. It should be required reading for anyone with immigrants in their family, as it provides an honest depiction of the kind of hardship and existence that would bring someone to this "Land of Opportunity". It also serves as a chilling reminder of the difference between necessity and possession. In this age when happiness is often measured by what you own and how you live, it is humbling to be reminded of simpler times when just having food on the table is a blessing.

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