Frank McCourt,
Angela's Ashes
(Scribner, 1996)

Frank McCourt's memoir, Angela's Ashes -- based on the play A Couple of Blaguards written by McCourt and his brother Malachy -- tells of his childhood in New York and Ireland.

McCourt was born in a New York City tenement to recent Irish immigrants Angela and Malachy. His parents had married shortly after the "knee-trembler" which left Angela pregnant with the first of several children. But Malachy was an alcoholic and could not keep a job, leaving his family to live in such poverty that even an egg was an unaffordable luxury. After Frank's infant sister Margaret died, possibly from malnutrition, the family returned to Ireland in hopes of a fresh start.

However, their families had neither the space nor the desire to take them in. They rented a series of flats in the Limerick ghetto, where more children were born, and more died. Only Frank and three brothers survived to adulthood. In 1941, when Frank was 11, Malachy left to fight in World War II, and Angela had to fend for herself. Frank took a job as a messenger at age 16, eventually saving enough money to buy a ticket to America -- where he believed he could escape the poverty and depression of Ireland.

McCourt tells his story with humor, compassion and, ultimately, forgiveness. And he had a lot to forgive -- his parents, his teachers, Ireland itself, life and even himself. The tale is an emotional one, funny and sad in turns, draining throughout. While it has particular meaning for readers of Irish descent, anyone will likely find themselves absorbed by his vivid, personal narrative.

[ by Katie Knapp ]

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