The Pequod Review:
Angela's Ashes is an earnest but loving coming-of-age memoir of Frank McCourt's Depression-era childhood in Limerick, Ireland. McCourt was born in New York City but moved to Ireland at a young age:
My father and mother should have stayed in New York where they met and married and where I was born. Instead, they returned to Ireland when I was four, my brother, Malachy, three, the twins, Oliver and Eugene, barely one, and my sister, Margaret, dead and gone.
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 is a great storyteller with mostly fond memories of his circumstances and very little bitterness. He proves the adage that tragedy plus time equals comedy:
The lice are disgusting, worse than rats. They're in our heads and ears and they sit in the hollows of our collarbones. They dig into our skin. They get into the seams of our clothes and they're everywhere in the coats we use as blankets. We have to search every inch of Alphie's body because he's a baby and helpless.
The lice are worse than the fleas. Lice squat and suck and we can see our blood through their skins. Fleas jump and bite and they're clean and we prefer them. Things that jump are cleaner than things that squat.
The rain dampened the city from the Feast of the Circumcision to New Year's Eve. It created a cacophony of hacking coughs, bronchial rattles, asthmatic wheezes, consumptive croaks. It turned noses into fountains, lungs into bacterial sponges. From October to April the walls of Limerick glistened with the damp. Clothes never dried: tweed and woolen coats housed living things, sometimes sprouted mysterious vegetations. In pubs, steam rose from damp bodies and garments to be inhaled with cigarette and pipe smoke laced with the stale fumes of spilled stout and whisky.
And through it all, McCourt finds moments of beauty and wisdom:
The book had the first bit of Shakespeare I ever read... I don't know what it means and I don't care because it's Shakespeare and it's like having jewels in my mouth when I say the words. If I had a whole book of Shakespeare they could keep me in the hospital for a year.
You might be poor, your shoes might be broken, but your mind is a palace.