“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 luminous 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.
|Sold by:||SIMON & SCHUSTER|
|File size:||4 MB|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
From 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.
Come here till I comb your hair, said Grandma. Look at that mop, it won't lie down. You didn't get that hair from my side of the family. That's that North of Ireland hair you got from your father. That's the kind of hair you see on Presbyterians. If your mother had married a proper decent Limerickman you wouldn't have this standing up, North of Ireland, Presbyterian hair.
She spat twice on my head.
Grandma, will you please stop spitting on my head.
If you have anything to say, shut up. A little spit won't kill you. Come on, we'll be late for the Mass.
We ran to the church. My mother panted along behind with Michael in her arms. We arrived at the church just in time to see the last of the boys leaving the altar rail where the priest stood with the chalice and the host, glaring at me. Then he placed on my tongue the wafer, the body and blood of Jesus. At last, at last.
It's on my tongue. I draw it back.
I had God glued to the roof of my mouth. I could hear the master's voice, Don't let that host touch your teeth for if you bite God in two you'll roast in hell for eternity. I tried to get God down with my tongue but the priest hissed at me, Stop that clucking and get back to your seat. God was good. He melted and I swallowed Him and now, at last, I was a member of the True Church, an official sinner.
When the Mass ended there they were at the door of the church, my mother with Michael in her arms, my grandmother. They each hugged me to their bosoms. They each told me it was the happiest day of my life. They each cried all over my head and after my grandmother's contribution that morning my head was a swamp.
Mam, can I go now and make The Collection?
She said, After you have a little breakfast.
No, said Grandma.You're not making no collection till you have a proper First Communion breakfast at my house. Come on.
We followed her. She banged pots and rattled pans and complained that the whole world expected her to be at their beck and call. I ate the egg, I ate the sausage, and when I reached for more sugar for my tea she slapped my hand away.
Go aisy with that sugar. Is it a millionaire you think I am? An American? Is it bedecked in glitterin' jewelry you think I am? Smothered in fancy furs?
The food churned in my stomach. I gagged. I ran to her backyard and threw it all up. Out she came.
Look at what he did. Thrun up his First Communion breakfast. Thrun up the body and blood of Jesus. I have God in me backyard. What am I goin' to do? I'll take him to the Jesuits for they know the sins of the Pope himself.
She dragged me through the streets of Limerick. She told the neighbors and passing strangers about God in her backyard. She pushed me into the confession box.
In the name of the Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost. Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It's a day since my last confession.
A day? And what sins have you committed in a day, my child?
I overslept. I nearly missed my First Communion. My grandmother said I have standing up, North of Ireland, Presbyterian hair. I threw up my First Communion breakfast. Now Grandma says she has God in her backyard and what should she do.
The priest is like the First Confession priest. He has the heavy breathing and the choking sounds.
Ah...ah...tell your grandmother to wash God away with a little water and for your penance say one Hail Mary and one Our Father. Say a prayer for me and God bless you, my child.
Grandma and Mam were waiting close to the confession box. Grandma said, Were you telling jokes to that priest in the confession box? If 'tis a thing I ever find out you were telling jokes to Jesuits I'll tear the bloody kidneys outa you. Now what did he say about God in my backyard?
He said wash Him away with a little water, Grandma.
Holy water or ordinary water?
He didn't say, Grandma.
Well, go back and ask him.
She pushed me back into the confessional.
Bless me, Father, for I have sinned, it's a minute since my last confession.
A minute! Are you the boy that was just here?
I am, Father.
What is it now?
My grandma says, Holy water or ordinary water?
Ordinary water, and tell your grandmother not to be bothering me again.
I told her, Ordinary water, Grandma, and he said don't be bothering him again.
Don't be bothering him again. That bloody ignorant bogtrotter.
I asked Mam, Can I go now and make The Collection? I want to see James Cagney.
Grandma said, You can forget about The Collection and James Cagney because you're not a proper Catholic the way you left God on the ground. Come on, go home.
Mam said, wait a minute. That's my son. That's my son on his First Communion day. He's going to see James Cagney.
No he's not.
Yes he is.
Grandma said, Take him then to James Cagney and see if that will save his Presbyterian North of Ireland American soul. Go ahead.
She pulled her shawl around her and walked away.
Mam said, God, it's getting very late for The Collection and you'll never see James Cagney. We'll go to the Lyric Cinema and see if they'll let you in anyway in your First Communion suit. We met Mikey Molloy on Barrington Street. He asked if I was going to the Lyric and I said I was trying. Trying? he said. You don't have money? I was ashamed to say no but I had to and he said, That's all right. I'll get you in. I'll create a diversion.
What's a diversion?
I have the money to go and when I get in I'll pretend to have the fit and the ticket man will be out of his mind and you can slip in when I let out the big scream. I'll be watching the door and when I see you in I'll have a miraculous recovery. That's a diversion. That's what I do to get my brothers in all the time.
Mam said, Oh, I don't know about that, Mikey. Wouldn't that be a sin and surely you wouldn't want Frank to commit a sin on his Communion day.
Mikey said if there was a sin it would be on his soul and he wasn't a proper Catholic anyway so it didn't matter. He let out his scream and I slipped in and sat next to Question Quigley and the ticket man, Frank Goggin, was so worried over Mikey he never noticed. It was a thrilling film but sad in the end because James Cagney was a public enemy and when they shot him they wrapped him in bandages and threw him in the door, shocking his poor old Irish mother, and that was the end of my First Communion day.
Copyright © 1996 by Frank McCourt
Reading Group Guide
- Countless memoirs have been published recently, yet Angela's Ashes stands out. What makes this memoir so unique and compelling?
- 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?
- 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?
- McCourt writes: "I think my father is like the Holy Trinity with three people in him, the one in the morning with the paper, the one at night with the stories and prayers, and then the one who does the bad thing and comes home with the smell of whiskey and wants us to die for Ireland." Was this your impression of Frank McCourt's father? How can Frank write about his father without bitterness? What part did Malachy play in creating the person that Frank eventually became?
- Women -- in particular mothers -- play a significant role in Angela's Ashes. Recall the scenes between Angela and her children; the MacNamara sisters (Delia and Philomena) and Malachy; Aunt Aggie and young Frank; Angela and her own mother. In what ways do these interactions reflect the roles of women within their families? Discuss the ways in which Angela struggles to keep her family together in the most desperate of circumstances.
- McCourt titles his memoir Angela's Ashes, after his mother. What significance does the phrase "Angela's Ashes" acquire by the end of the book?
- Despite the McCourts' horrid poverty, mind-numbing starvation, and devastating losses, Angela's Ashes is not a tragic memoir. In fact, it is uplifting, triumphant even. How does McCourt accomplish this?
- Irish songs and lyrics are prominently featured in Angela's Ashes. How do these lyrics contribute to the unique voice of this memoir? How does music affect Frank's experiences? How do you think it continues to influence his memories of his childhood?
- Frank spent the first four years of his life in the United States. How do his experiences in America affect Frank's years in Ireland?
The Horse's Mouth, Joyce Cary
Stop-Time, Frank Conroy
The Barrytown Trilogy, Roddy Doyle
Dubliners, James Joyce
The Liars' Club, Mary Karr
Ironweed, William Kennedy
Up in the Old Hotel and Other Stories, Joseph Mitchell
Mother of Pearl, Mary Morrissey
A Fanatic Heart: Selected Stories of Edna O'Brien, Edna O'Brien
Later the Same Day, Grace Paley
Family Sins, William Trevor
Carry On Jeeves, P. G. Wodehouse
Look Homeward, Angel, Thomas Wolfe
This Boy's Life, Tobias Wolff
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Angela's Ashes is a compelling and inspiring memoir that gives the reader insight on the life of a poverty stricken Irish boy, Frank McCourt, and his family during WWII. McCourt's writing style draws the reader into his tale and creates pictures from his words that make readers seem like they are actually there. The memoir begins in New York in a small cramped apartment where McCourt lived for the first four years of his life. His parents had come to America with the hopes of living the American Dream, but instead their family encountered a struggle for food, clothing, and money. After enduring the hardships of America, the McCourt family decided to move back to Ireland in the hopes of finding a better life back in their homeland; however they again did not succeed in creating a better life for themselves. Despite the promises made by Frank's father to bring home money for his family, his alcoholic father continued to spend all of his paycheck on "the pint" leaving no money left over for his family. This left Frank and the rest of his family to fend for themselves in anyway they could. Frank's mother would beg the church for money, and Frank and his siblings would steal whatever food they could. They lived in tattered clothing and a worn down house, with hardly any food. Frank also endured hardships within school and his church. His teachers constantly called him stupid, beat him, and shot him down because of his ranking within society. However, Frank does finish school, proving his intelligence. Frank's school and church had consistently told that he has to die for God just as Jesus Christ died for our sins, however his father continuously tells Frank and his siblings to die for Ireland because it is the only worthy thing to die for. Frank becomes confused about life because he was never taught that there was anything to live for. After his father leaves for England to find work, Frank realizes that he must live to provide for his family and make a better life for himself and do more than what people expect from him. In his memoir, McCourt points out, "People everywhere brag and whimper about the woes of their early years, but nothing can compare with the Irish version: the poverty; the shiftless loquacious alcoholic father; the pious defeated mother moaning by the fire; pompous priests; bullying schoolmasters; the English and the terrible things they did to us for eight hundred long years" (McCourt11). Despite all of these hardships and obstacles, McCourt endures and learns to overcome the challenges that life throws at him. Angela's Ashes is a truly inspirational story full of perseverance, determination, and most of all, hope for the future. It teaches the reader to appreciate what they have and recognize the hardships that others must face. McCourt's writing style engages the reader in the tale and allows them to feel the same sadness, humor, joy, and anger that Frank McCourt felt throughout his childhood. Frank McCourt's story is a emotional rollercoaster, and in the end, it is well worth the ride.
Wonderful, wonderful wonderful but not something to brighten your day. It made me realize how easy I had it growing up.
Touching and Fantastic. The novel Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt centers around the author’s life as a child and young man, dealing with such problems as heartbreak, alcoholism, and poverty. Throughout the book, events occur in Frank’s life that bring many hardships, but Frank sets goals for the future and remains hopeful. This book includes references of his family being Irish, moving from place to place, World War II, and relationships, and reflects how hard life really is for some people. I strongly recommend adults and teenagers to read this book because of my strong experience with reading it. Although almost the entire book was sad, the character development and emotion you walk away with is just incredible. Something I really enjoyed about this novel was the adventure carried throughout by Frank and his family page to page and that Frank never begged and was very self-respected and independent. On the other hand, my only disappointment was how painful it was to read and become a part of; the feeling of being in Frank’s shoes doesn’t have a point of relief or comfort in my opinion. Sensitive people like me, whom may shed many tears on their book, should absolutely still read this book; it is an eye-opener. Some of the many messages conveyed through the words of McCourt is honesty about struggle and being hopeful, thankful, and strong as well as how it feels to be very poor. For me, the themes of hunger and storytelling stood most outward during my read, and gave me a reality-check on how simple and carefree my life was and is growing up not in a broken or poor house. The author did a stupendous job of putting the reader in his shoes, and I overall rate this book five out of five stars.
Angela's Ashes is a stunning and compelling memoir of times bygone. Frank McCourt has weaved a gossamer, a time travel through the early nineteenth century Ireland. This book will give you goose bumps and it will feel like you are essentially there. The story begins when McCourt is only four years old and living in sheer poverty. The McCourt family returns to Ireland, to make life better. This effort fails. Frank's father now moves to England in search of work. His determination is noteworthy. Frank's family doesn't think much of him and on the other hand his teachers tell him to lay down his life for God. Frank's dad wants him to lay down his life for Ireland. At this point Frank is truly confused about life. Frank ultimately finds his way through life and decides to live for his family- giving true meaning to the saying, "Charity begins at home." The negative remarks from his teachers only strengthen Frank's Irish determination to be successful in life. He eventually does so, providing for his family. He proves everyone wrong by being successful. Many young boys can identify themselves with Frank's life. This book is very appealing. It is easy to slip into McCourt's shoes and identify yourself with him. If you want to step back in time and live the life of a young Irish boy with World War II as a backdrop, this is the book for you! The social power over a citizen's life is vividly portrayed in this book. Frank is a prime example of how a foolish society can bring you down and dispossess you of further education based on how you dress and your social class. The society can drag down your sense of worth and self- confidence, as they did to Frank time and again. Poor Frank is overwhelmed with hunger throughout his early life. His family never had enough food to eat. Frank's father is an alcoholic and spends the little money he earns on alcohol! He talks about being faithful to Ireland all day long and yet he is not faithful to his family. Frank's hunger is both physical and emotional. He is also self- respecting and would never beg. I liked this book a lot! It is adventurous as well as an eye opener. It opens our eyes to the multi facets of life. Sometimes we get so used to and comfortable with our own way life living that we tend to overlook the different circumstances under which people live around the world. This book is a must read! I promise that you will not realize the full impact of this memoir until you have read and assimilated this! If you like Angela's Ashes you will love 'Tis: A Memoir' by the same author. I give this Pulitzer Prize winning book a ten out of ten. I believe the crux of this memoir is represented by, "When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I survived 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." (McCourt 11) This passage is found in the beginning of the memoir and it is here that McCourt expresses his opinion of how unhappy his childhood was and how he had to fight through the conflicting values of church and family. These values were imposed on him and he was left all alone, figuratively to determine which path must he chose in life. From this point on the book is simply McCourt's depiction of his life. He does this without expressing any personal opinion.
Angela's Ashes is a compelling and inspiring memoir that tugs at the heartstrings and stretches one's perception of life during WWII. Frank McCourt's unique writing style takes the reader on a journey through 1930's and 40's Ireland to the point that they would almost believe that they lived it themselves. This journey starts through the eyes of McCourt as a boy of only four years. Life for he and his family is not what they thought it would be in the 'Land of the Free' where every man has "...a new suit and fat on his bones...and a lovely girl with white teeth hangin' from his arm" (McCourt 358). Instead times are tough and money is scarce as is food and clothing. Because of this the McCourts decided to return to Ireland with the hope that they will be able to make a better life for themselves. Unfortunately, this is not the case. McCourt's father sees no light at the end of the financial tunnel that his family is stuck in, so he only sees fit to spend the money that he earns from the various jobs that he holds on "the pint." His job search eventually takes him to England, and Frank is left to take care of his family into his late teens. The unrelenting theme throughout the book is perseverance. Frank is constantly bombarded by his peers and his family with disgusted looks and solemn shakes of the head that say "He's never going to go anywhere in life." On top of this, Frank and his peers are told what is worthy to die for. His school teacher is always telling him to die for God just as Jesus Christ died for 'our sins.' Frank's father is always telling his boys to die for Ireland, for that is the only true cause worth dying for. Through all this encouragement of honorable deaths, Frank finally wonders "Is there anyone who would like us to live?" (McCourt 113). To his amazement, he can find virtually no one who would say "Live for Ireland" or "Live in God's graces" but still he chooses to become a "real" man and live to save his family. Death is not the only thing that is preached in Frank's school. Because of Frank's ragged appearance he laments that "The masters keep telling us we're an idiot" (McCourt 151). This constant badgering only encourages Frank to make something out of the nothing that he has been given. He eventually finishes school and then successfully becomes the provider for his broken and decrepit family. Through his perseverance, Frank is able to make something out of the ruins of his life so that he may not become what society has predetermined his life to be. While many memoirs can be dry by nature, Angela's Ashes is refreshingly engaging. McCourt's first person writing style draws the reader deep into his personal experiences and feelings. Passages will tug at the heartstrings and fill the heart with endearment as the words seem to jump out of the page to create an eerily personalized experience for the reader that was his former life. McCourt's writing style is simple yet elegant as he describes his experiences in a straightforward and sophisticated manor. This style allows for the reader to feel as though they are in McCourt's "train of thought" instead of just reading words on a page. For readers who are looking for a reading experience that is only one small step from actually living the history of the book, Angela's Ashes is a round trip ticket to a whole range of emotions and adventure.
The author not only reads his story, he sings. This book made me cry, I mean sob. This is a must read for every person on the planet. But I especially recommend the audio because the author is mesmerizing. This audiobook will make the person that doesn't enjoy reading want to start reading. If you have burnt yourself out on reading, or know someone that has, this is the book for you. Remember the audiobook is worth the extra money.
Angelas Ashes is a good book. It is very easy to follow and sequenced out from the time Frank was young and the story followed his age. Personally myself I do enjoy reading about the authors life. I like the fact of how deep it goes into giving the details of Franks life. This book just informs the reader how the writers life was as a child and how the early 1900's were.
Angela's Ashes is a very emotional book written by Frank McCourt. I enjoyed the book because of his detailed writting and the honesty of this book. It was very emotional and hard to read at times but I know that Frank wanted you to feel exactly what was going on. Reading this book has made me more thankful for the world we live in today, we don't know what it's like to truly be poor. But reading this book defined poor in a whole new way.
This is truly a tragic tale. Frank McCourt guides us through his young life with detail and emotion that only a born writer can bring out of a book. This story begins in a cramped apartment in Brooklyn, New York where Frank McCourt lives with his mother, father, and three brothers. With money, food, and clothing scarce, they are forced to move back to their native Ireland. They spent their time in the slums and back lanes of Limerick, with tattered shoes and old coats. Young Frank McCourt has to survive poverty, illness, death, and an alcoholic father in his new home, all to reach his end goal; return back to America and start a new life. This book really brings out incredible emotion in anyone who reads it. Sadness, pity, and a little bit of humor in the mix. I found myself comparing my life to his in many parts of the book. It shows you how much we have and how much we take for granted. Just to get clothes his mother had to go to a local church and beg. For school they had to walk with broken shoes to a place where the teachers were harsh and the subjects were hard. Perhaps the saddest aspect of the book is his alcoholic father, pocketing their dole money and spending it in pubs, coming home smelling of drink and never keeping a job. Frank had to work at the age of fourteen just to keep food on the table. And when that money wasn’t enough, he and his brothers had to steal. This book brings you through so much he had to suffer through in an amazing way. This book really is simply incredible. I recommend this to anyone looking for something rich, fulfilling, and moving. This is completely deserving of the Pulitzer Prize. Frank McCourt did an amazing job illustrating his memories for us.
This book kept my complete interest until nearing the end. Frank Mccourt becomes a young man, and my interest slid downhill from there.
The first autobiography that kept me entertained enough to finish. I am absolutely in love with this book. Clearly some people did not connect to this heart wrenching story. It is beautifully sad. I'd recommend this to anyone. It is a fantastic read.
Perhaps I was expecting more as the author had won an award. I simply wasn't a fan of the writing style or structure of the story.
Just to think, my great grand parents came from Limmerick! Thank God they did! I found this book depressing.
I think that it is a really good book. It is one of a kind, and that everyone should read it. The book tells of a boy and his family moving from place to place. And how they work through the troubled times with being poor, and how he is dealing with the hard times. they also show how the Irish families are torward the other family members other than there own family.
I have found that I was in some of these experiences the alcoholic parent, the lack of food in some cases, a mother who struggled with the pain of a sick child. I found it relatable and worthy of looking at life with an open and forgiving perspective. Check it out at your library. If it doesn't satisfy, you've lost nothing.
The book was very interesting. it taught me a lot about the past and how people were in that time frame. Frank McCourt really showed the hardships he went through and that his family went through. i think once a person reads this book they will have a greater knowledge and understanding for people back then. in some parts of the book was really heartbreaking but other parts showed great courage.
The book Angela's Ashes was very sad and depressing. I cannot believe such a thing actually happened to one family. Poverty, the lack of social class, and sickness played a major role in making Frank McCourt's life so tragic. I do not recommend just anyone reading this book. I would only recommend reading this book for research purposes only or if you were just curious. The book is about going through life dealing with poverty and sickness from day to day. Therefore, I believe this story is very strong, but I do not believe all age groups should be exposed to this type of literature.
Great read. Sad, funny amd heart warming tear jerker
One of the greatest books I’ve read...
I’m not able to write much right sorry ??!!!
I wasn't expecting to be so charmed by this book. I admit, its extreme popularity made me suspicious. It was funny and sad. The narrative voice was engaging and original. A real pleasure.
Couldn't quite bring myself to give it 3 full stars. I found it too long and repetitive -- it could have been a really effective book otherwise. Relentlessly grim, so I suppose I should admire Frank's endeavor more than I do. Unlike other reviewers here, I don't remember it as having a lot of humor -- just one sad story of poverty with an awful father after another. I guess I've had enough sadness in my own life to embrace this much of Frank's.
The full spectrum of human emotion, delivered with what I could swear was an Irish accent. I very quickly stopped caring that there was (intentionally) no punctuation and started caring about what happened to Frankie and what went on in his head.
I have wanted to read this book for a long time. It won the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for Biography & Autobiography.The first hour was torturously boring. Sadly, the book became more interesting as the tragedies started occurring.As a mom, I cannot fathom how Angela was able to get through the heartaches she had to endure. As a parent, I am equally appalled at how selfish Frank¿s father was - how he could let his children go without because of his own selfish desires.It was particularly poignant to hear the story narrated by the author. I felt as though he was in the room, sitting beside me, tell me his story.I was not satisfied with the ending¿I want to know what happens next! Frank had to beg, borrow, and steal to get to America; how did his behaviour change (or not) after he got there? Did he send money back to help out his mother and brothers? Did they stay in Ireland or come to America as well? Whatever happened to his father?I realize now that there is a sequel called `Tis, which I feel compelled to read. I watched the movie after reading the book, and I thought it was very well done and lived up to how I had pictured things in my mind.MY RATING: 4 stars!