If there is anything more harrowing than spending your childhood in abject poverty, living out on the dole, having sugar and water for food, living in a rat-infested house that stinks, and seeing your siblings die one by one before your very eyes, I don’t know what is. But these and a lot more have colored Frank McCourt’s childhood in the rainy, wet streets of Limerick, Ireland.
Angela’s Ashes is a memoir of a childhood of Irish-American teacher, Frank McCourt, and won the Pulitzer prize in 1997. I don’t usually read memoirs or autobiographies, in fact I think I have never read any memoir before this one. So yes, I will say that my very first foray into reading memoirs is very memorable. Angela’s Ashes is, for now, the best memoir I have ever read.
Living in a third world country, I am no longer surprised by stories of children and families in extreme poverty. Public service programs and documentaries on TV have shown stories of children living in slums, babies drinking coffee instead of milk, and youngsters foraging garbage dumps for scrap to sell, and each time I see stories like these, I cannot help but shed a tear or two, often more. So reading about a life lived in poverty isn’t really new to me. What I like about Angela’s Ashes though is even if it is a story of a miserable Irish childhood, it is told with pure innocence and dry wit, oftentimes hilarious. Even through the darkest moments of his life, Frankie is able to narrate it with a seemingly distant tone but still with raw clarity. He tells it with the air of someone who has gone through the toughest times and has emerged victorious through it all.
The prose of Angela’s Ashes is very lyrical, though the lack of quotation marks in his dialogues takes quite some time getting used to. While reading the narrative of Mr. McCourt, I cannot help feeling that maybe he has exaggerated some of the events in his life, for who can accurately describe the conversations and events that happened a long time ago? Maybe this kind of lingering doubt on the happenings of the past is brought about by my training in college as a history major where we were always reminded by our professors not to take as absolute truth everything we read, especially historical accounts.
Still, as a narrative, Angela’s Ashes is beautifully written, with more than enough suspense to keep you interested. The experiences of Frankie as a child have been fascinating and if I just keep my doubts on accuracy at bay, I can say that Frank McCourt had a really pathetic childhood. I am amused by his confusion as to the strictness of the Catholic faith in which he grew up, but what I find the most interesting is the very hostile view towards Protestants that time. I’m born and raised a Protestant (particularly, Baptist) and I can just imagine how it would have felt to be a Protestant during that time in Limerick, Ireland.
Angela’s Ashes ended with Frank McCourt setting foot on American soil. I already have a copy of the sequel, ‘Tis, (this word by the way is repeatedly mentioned in the book) and I am planning to read this as soon as March starts. I am curious to know how Frank will live and survive his life as an Irish immigrant in this land of milk and honey as he had imagined.
7/50 2012 Goodreads Reading Goal.
2/2 Required Reading: February