Summary and book reviews of Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt

Angela's Ashes

A Memoir

By Frank McCourt

Angela's Ashes
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  • Hardcover: Sep 1996,
    360 pages.
    Paperback: May 1999,
    255 pages.

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Book Summary

"When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I managed to survive at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood."

So begins the Pulitzer Prize winning memoir of Frank McCourt, born in Depression-era Brooklyn to recent Irish immigrants and raised in the slums of Limerick, Ireland. Frank's mother, Angela, has no money to feed the children since Frank's father, Malachy, rarely works, and when he does he drinks his wages. Yet Malachy-- exasperating, irresponsible and beguiling-- does nurture in Frank an appetite for the one thing he can provide: a story. Frank lives for his father's tales of Cuchulain, who saved Ireland, and of the Angel on the Seventh Step, who brings his mother babies.

Perhaps it is story that accounts for Frank's survival. Wearing rags for diapers, begging a pig's head for Christmas dinner and gathering coal from the roadside to light a fire, Frank endures poverty, near-starvation and the casual cruelty of relatives and neighbors--yet lives to tell his tale with eloquence, exuberance and remarkable forgiveness.

Angela's Ashes
, imbued on every page with Frank McCourt's astounding humor and compassion, is a glorious book that bears all the marks of a classic.

Chapter IV

First Communion day is the happiest day of your life because of The Collection and James Cagney at the Lyric Cinema. The night before I was so excited I couldn't sleep till dawn. I'd still be sleeping if my grandmother hadn't come banging at the door.

Get up! Get up! Get that child outa the bed. Happiest day of his life an' him snorin' above in the bed.

I ran to the kitchen. Take off that shirt, she said. I took off the shirt and she pushed me into a tin tub of icy cold water. My mother scrubbed me, my grandmother scrubbed me. I was raw, I was red.

They dried me. They dressed me in my black velvet First Communion suit with the white frilly shirt, the short pants, the white stockings, the black patent leather shoes. Around my arm they tied a white satin bow and on my lapel they pinned the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a picture with blood dripping from it, flames erupting all around it and on top a nasty-looking crown of thorns.

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Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Countless memoirs have been published recently, yet Angela's Ashes stands out. What makes this memoir so unique and compelling?
  2. Discuss the originality and immediacy of Frank McCourt's voice and the style he employs -- i.e., his sparing use of commas, the absence of quotation marks. How, through a child's voice and perspective, does McCourt establish and maintain credibility?
  3. Ever present in Angela's Ashes is the Catholic Church. In what ways does the Catholic Church of McCourt's Ireland hurt its members and limit their experience? How does the Church protect and nurture its followers? What is Frank's attitude toward the Church?
  4. McCourt writes: "I think my father is like the Holy Trinity with ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews
Author Blurb Newsweek - Malcom Jones, Jr.
It is only the best storyteller who can so beguile his readers that he leaves them wanting more when he's done. With Angela's Ashes, McCourt proves himself one of the very best.

The New York Times - Michiko Kakutani

The reader of this stunning memoir can only hope that Mr. McCourt will set down the story of his subsequent adventures in America in another book. Angela's Ashes is so good it deserves a sequel.

Reader Reviews
K. Combs

Poverty through the eyes of a child
Our book club read this book last year. I fell it love with this book. Frank McCourt's description of his life via his eyes as a child were so real, sad and yet humorous all at the same time. And yet to still be aware it was all true. I laughed ...   Read More

E.G.BAHADIR

im my opinion it is the best
It is one of the wonderful books I have read. In this book everything is perfect -subject,reality and others. I can't explain more because I only know a little English. THANK YOU MR McCOURT

novice
angela's ashes
Sorry to say that I did not feel like masses who read the book. I really don't know why the Poverty or Crack or any such thing always gets so popular-- is it the weakness of human mind which becomes kind of sympathetic for these values? To me, It' s ...   Read More

Holly

Angela's Ashes
This book is highly recommended, after reading this book...it made me realize that there is a reason for everything. This book makes me a better person.

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