Thinking Aloud: “Angela’s Ashes”

June 14, 2014 by Darius 

I recently read Angela’s Ashes, a memoir by Frank McCourt about growing up in Ireland during the 1930s and ‘40s.  Angela’s Ashes is humorous and depressing at the same, but I would recommend it nonetheless.

Frank McCourt’s mother (the Angela of the title) got pregnant shortly after arriving in America from Ireland; her cousins all but forced the Irish-born father to marry her before Frank was born.  Frank spent his first years in New York City amid grinding poverty, neglect, and filth, in part because his father, an alcoholic, was unable to hold a job and drank the wages he did earn.  When Frank was three,  the family moved back to Ireland.  From there, Angela’s Ashes becomes something of a primer of what goes wrong in a newly minted, very religious country with no social safety net during an economic crisis.  The McCourts remain dirt poor, with love and dysfunction in relatively equal measures.  Few people come off looking good except Frank and his brothers: not his relatives, not his neighbors or teachers, not the local priests, not the aid workers, certainly not Frank’s father, and not even Frank’s mother, to whom the title of the book is dedicated.

Angela’s Ashes best quality is McCourt’s ability to capture the tone and mindset of a child in telling his story.  As a child, young Frank did not understand many incidents that are obvious to an adult.  Humor results.

Angela’s Ashes is a valuable reminder of what life looks like in communities boxed in by poverty and poor choices.

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