Book Review: Angela’s Ashes

If you like crying and having your heart ripped out, then you should definitely read “Angela’s Ashes” by Frank McCourt, a memoir about the early years of his life. The story follows McCourt’s move from New York to Ireland and the poverty, starvation, religious identity, and death of friends and family that he goes through from childhood to young adulthood. Taking place in the early 20th century, McCourt suffers from everything that could possibly go wrong, yet he survives to be a great author and well-known for his written pieces.

This book isn’t very thick, but the content within it is extremely heavy. It will take readers on a new journey; the story reads like a fictional tale because it’s so unbelievable, but it is all true. Unfortunately, most people don’t experience the privilege of Ridgewood. There is true suffering out there; there is death and loss, and there is poverty. Growing up in a town like Ridgewood, it’s hard to understand what such poverty and suffering feels like.

Yet even with McCourt’s rough beginning, he was able to overcome his struggles and write a beautiful book. Every word written is a gift, and every page is a tale of triumph. Frank McCourt was able to survive sickness, starvation, and poverty. He made it through, and while the events that occur in this book will make you cry, nothing will make you cry harder than the fact that he made it. He survived while many people didn’t, and he was able to tell the story for those who couldn’t. In my opinion, that’s the best part of this book: the fact that Frank McCourt is a voice for all of those speechless souls.

This book gives an interesting perspective on the time period, which is during the famine in Ireland. While many native Irish people left Ireland and emigrated to America, the McCourt family left America for Ireland. A few years earlier, Frank’s mother had traveled from Ireland to start a new life in America, but the family ended up moving back to Ireland when death struck the family. Right after the famine, many people no longer saw Ireland as home, but rather as a cemetery. The land could barely handle crops, and there were diseased people around every corner. America looked like Heaven to those who lived in Ireland, and it is strange to think that the McCourts moved back in a desperate attempt to escape death. But can anyone really escape death? For the McCourt family, Ireland only brought sickness, and death to their brand new doorstep. So why didn’t they go back to America? With an alcoholic father who can’t hold a job, it was hard to get money for passage.

There is something very strange about all of the relationships in the McCourt family. Mother and father do not get along, yet they continue to have children. The McCourt brothers stick together and are strong for each other, but they still argue over what is right and who is wrong. However, the strangest relationship is between Frank and his father. Mr. McCourt is a serious alcoholic, and as soon as the family receives their state money to help them get by, Frank’s father is out the door and at a pub. Some nights he does not come home, and other nights he returns and disrupts his family’s sleep with his drunken songs. Frank, being the oldest, has lived the longest with his father’s habits. No matter how late his father comes home or how many times they starve because their father is out drinking, Frank continues to look at his father like a God. It is hard to think poorly of the people we look up to as role models. Frank always looks up to his father, despite all of the times people call his father a no-good drunk, and all of the times his mother curses his father’s name. Most little boys idolize their fathers, but even as life continues on, Frank sees his father as a guide. He looks to his father for help and for advice, sometimes getting no response. It strikes me as weird that Frank’s father is hardly around and when he is, he’s a grumpy sober mess, and Frank continued to think his father was only a step down from God.

God, and religion are also really interesting topics in this book. From day one, Frank is a good Catholic. In Ireland, he goes to church every week and makes sure to pray every night before bed. Through sickness and nights without food, Frank always believes in God and that He is looking out his family. With all the deaths that they have to deal with, Frank believes God does it for a reason. The connection between Frank and his religion is truly beautiful. His faith to God is honestly amazing. As someone who didn’t believe in religion for a long time, this connection is foreign and so interesting to me. I could never personally connect with a certain religion, and though I live in a Catholic and Jewish household, I never understood why someone would so blindly follow God. Reading Angela’s Ashes, I see that Frank looks to God and the angels for advice. He looks for a comforting guide for when his father is too drunk to talk. Eventually Frank loses his faith, and I felt robbed. I read nearly a whole book about the tale of this boy, his family, and his belief, only to have the boy grow up and lose the only constant theme in his life. Frank had dedicated so much of his life to religion, and just after one day, he gives up. After so many years, Frank gave up his religion and lost his belief in God so quickly.It makes the reader question the nature of humans and their religions.

There are so many things I could say about this book, but in short, I would highly recommend it. It is important for us to recognize the privilege we were born with and to learn about the suffering that others have gone through. Yes, it makes you cry and yes, you will feel like your heart has been ripped to shreds. Although it is extremely tragic and full of heavy topics, you will enjoy this book. The ending will make you smile, and the future of Frank McCourt will give you hope.

Clarah Grossman
staff writer

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