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Book Review: Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

Book Review
Title: Angela’s Ashes
Author: Frank McCourt
Genre: Memoir
Published: 1999
Pages: 362

Angela’s Ashes is a memoir by Frank McCourt about his childhood in Limerick, Ireland. Frank is  Angela and Malachy’s first born son and was born in America where the family lived briefly before relocating. The family later moved to Ireland after the death of their daughter, Margaret.


Angela’s Ashes Starring Robert Carlyle, Emily Watson, Joe Breen, Ciaran Owens and Michael Legge © Universal Pictures

This is a story about hardship, extreme poverty and perseverance. Angela’s family wallows in poverty in Ireland and struggle each day just to get something to eat. Most of the times, the family survives on slices of bread and tea. There are times when they have to sleep hungry. Malachy is an alcoholic unable to feed his family. He drinks away his wages and finally goes off to work in England and never comes back home or send any money like the other fathers do.

“The master says it’s a glorious thing to die for the Faith and Dad says it’s a glorious thing to die for Ireland and I wonder if there’s anyone in the world who would like us to live.”
Frank McCourt, Angela’s Ashes  

Angela has to do everything possible to provide for her family. Mostly, she is forced to beg for food. Frank on the other hand is desperate to become a man and start providing for his family which has now grown to include five brothers although two of them later die. It’s nice to see how much Frank valued the idea of manhood and seemed to try very hard not to end up like his father. For instance; when his mother fell ill and there was no food at home, Frank stole food from the streets to keep them going.
Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt is one of the saddest stories that I have ever read. Children dying (three children die of infancy illnesses); others starving, while others struggling with afflictions of being poor. The family is so poor that they sleep on fleas infested beds. They can’t afford milk for the babies and at times, Angela gives them water with sugar. At some point, they are cold and can’t afford coal and so they use the timber of the walls of the house as firewood.

However, Frank McCourt tells his story in such a way that the characters are not pitiable. There are humorous moments despite the struggles. I especially liked the story of Frank’s journey to self-awareness. By 11 years old, he is working and providing for his family. At the age of fifteen, Frank loses his first love to Tuberculosis and at 19, he moves to America. Angela is also a woman to be admired for her strength and resilience.


“A mother’s love is a blessing
No matter where you roam.
Keep her while you have her,
You’ll miss her when she’s gone.”
Frank McCourt, Angela’s Ashes

I also loved the fact that the story was told from the perspective of the child narrator. It was interesting to have incidents described with the childlike innocence. Growing up in a religious society, Frank struggles with remaining righteous despite the many temptations that seem to come his way. He is always at confession sharing his ‘sins’ with the priests and seeking absolution. As a young boy, Frank does not understand about sex and even thinks that children are dropped home by angels. I admired the fact that at the age of 66, the author still managed to portray such a strong child’s voice.
I enjoyed this book and recommend it. I give it 5 stars. I look forward to reading the sequel, Tis and find out about Frank McCourt’s life in America.



6 comments on “Book Review: Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

  1. Joyce Poggi Hager
    March 21, 2016

    This is one of my favorite books. I loved the hopefulness he maintained through utter despair. I read ‘Tis too but wasn’t as enamored by it.

    • Diana
      March 22, 2016

      I enjoyed the book too. Had planned on reading Tis but I am yet to find a copy of it though I am not too keen on it. Reading your comment now has made me move Tis further down on my TBR list 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by the blog.

  2. cellenbogen
    March 21, 2016

    Thought Angela’s Ashes was incredibly overrated. Repetitious and obvious. Too sentimental.

    • Diana
      March 22, 2016

      Oh sorry you didn’t like it. Heard that it had some controversies too about being exaggerated/fiction and not a memoir.I enjoyed it though 🙂

  3. Pingback: TTT : Ten Books Every Memoir Lover Should Read – Voices in my head

  4. Pingback: T5W: Favorite Mother Figures – Voices in my head

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This entry was posted on March 21, 2016 by in Book Review and tagged , , , , , .
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