Title: Angela’s Ashes
Author: Frank McCourt
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
First Publication: 1996
Major Characters: Frank McCourt, Angela McCourt, Malachy McCourt Sr., Malachy McCourt Jr., Grandma Sheehan, Uncle Pa Keating, Aunt Aggie
Setting: Brooklyn, New York. Limerick, Ireland
Themes: Poverty, Aging, Substance abuse, Family Values, Religious conformity, Self-pride
Narrator: First Person
Book Summary: Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt
Angela’s Ashes is the riveting memoir by Frank McCourt, categorizing his trials and triumphs growing up as an impoverished young man in Limerick, Ireland. Starting his life in Brooklyn, New York, with a loaf mother and alcoholic father, they suffered unimaginable loss before deciding to venture back to their home country of Ireland during the depression.
Frank’s mother, Angela, while caring and present throughout his formative years, is unable to bring in a decent amount of money to pull the family out of poverty. They all frequently rely on money given to them by the state (dole). Frank’s father, Malachy, is out of his life more often than in but still manages to leave extraordinary memories. From long, thoughtful chats on the Irish countryside to drinking the week’s wages away and raising the boys in the early morning hours to pledge their lives to Ireland, his father leaves him with the impression to do better for himself.
As Frank goes through his life being bullied by school mates and Catholic clergy members alike, he develops a tenacity and work ethic that will follow him for the rest of his life.
This book is the first in a three-part series, all following the complete life of Frank McCourt.
Character List: Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt
Frank McCourt: Narrator of the story, who grows throughout the book. Learning by sometimes funny most times, unfortunate circumstances. Funny, good-natured, but harboring an understandable bitterness.
Angela McCourt (Sheehan): Frank’s mother, who can’t seem to get her life together. Marries a man she barely knows because he got her pregnant. She has signs of significant depression, lying around the house most days, and staring into the fire ashes for which the book is named.
Malachy McCourt: Frank’s good-natured father, when sober, turns into an aggressive zealot when intoxicated, taking all the money without regard for family needs.
Malachy McCourt JR: One of three Siblings that survive alongside Frank. Lends and ear of understanding and is there to diffuse tense situations that happen frequently.
Aunt Aggie: Angela’s sister, who is bitterly jealous of her ability to have children. She is perceived as mean and short-tempered but is loving in her way, and provides for Frank in particular on several occasions.
Uncle Pa Keating: Is Aunt Aggie’s joyous husband, who shares his boundless wealth in happiness with all children when he is around.
Grandma Sheehan: Angela’s mother, who is tight-fisted and disapproving of Angela’s entire life, Children included. She spends her time while helping out, criticizing her daughter’s choices loudly.
Book Review: Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt
Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt is a quintessential coming of age story viewed through the grimy, unyielding, and sometimes downright heartbreaking lens of poverty. It follows Frank McCourt as he comically explains the dire circumstances of his conception, birth, and life. Switching seamlessly between a first and third-person narration, you get the feel of being everywhere at once.
Angela and Malachy were at the right place at the right time for a love story full of wrongs to occur. Having a one-night stand which resulted in a pregnancy, that resulted in a patched-together marriage.
“On the feast of St. Joseph, a bitter day in March, four months after the Knee-trembler, Malachy Married Angela, and in August, the child was born.”
After losing the baby girl, she had been praying for Angela McCourt with her husband’s urging, decides that New York is no longer their place of salvation. They pack up and board a boat headed back to war-torn Ireland to pick up the pieces and make something of their family.
After landing, they find that their luck is no better in Ireland than in New York. Their dreams of prospering in their homeland are crushed by the impossible struggle of just trying to keep from starving or being swept away in the bitter rain. Even with government assistance and the random wages their father raises, it is no match for the consuming alcoholism. Losing two more children, the family still struggles to make ends meet until they move in with an unlikely relative. Frank, now left to his own devices and struggling to keep a stable relationship with his mother, finds himself longing for the home he left behind: America.
“I read the English, Irish, American magazines, and papers. Day and night, I dream of America.”
This story is challenging to the emotions; it deals with many elements and situations that make people uncomfortable. However, it has you holding back laughter, as Frank McCourt has this magical ability to make light of being starving in the pouring rain walking through the streets of Limerick. This book has you feel love, loss, fear, hunger, and the will to overcome uncertainty.
About the Author:
Frank McCourt was an American Irish Author who moved back to the United States when he was 19 years old. After serving in the Korean war, he came home to the states and went to the University of New York. Obtaining a Bachelor’s in English, McCourt taught at several New York Collages and High schools, before writing his first book. Angela’s Ashes is the first part of a three-part memoir in which he encapsulates his entire life and work. Other works include Tis’, Teacher Man, Angela and the Baby Jesus, and A Couple of Blaguards. He resided in Manhattan, NY, with his wife Ellen Frey McCourt, until he died in 2009.
Reviewed by Ashley Nelson