Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt
The story follows a poor Irish family during times of the Second World War in Ireland, so poor that they sleep in the same bed, or on the floor by the fire, and during the day steal fish n' chips thrown on the road by drunken men the night before.
I enjoyed reading it. The style of the book was written as though Frank were writing it when he was nine, 10, 11 years old, and gives a first-hand perception of trying and eventually succeeding to escape poverty.
I caught myself laughing out loud at certain parts, as Frank - growing out of adolescence - called sex 'the excitement'.
But the book wasn't a happy book. There may have been cheerful moments, when Frank and his brothers Malachy and Michael played, found bread and had a 'feast'. But much of the book left me heavyhearted - I was unaware of just how much poverty, how much hunger existed in Ireland, and my guess is that many still have no idea. Ireland was (is) cold, wet, and living directly next to the communal lavatory in Limerick is surely far from paradise.
And an interesting point: towards the end of the book, Frank is working for a magazine distributing company and one day is asked to gather as many magazines from shop owners as he can. Why? To rip out page 16 that encourages birth control. Ironically, Frank's mother has had seven children, one after the other, and three of whom have died due to hunger/consumption/disease. The government at the time made birth control illegal. It's just interesting to see how different the times - even of 50 years ago - were than they are today.
My favourite part of the book, however, is as Frank goes to school. He encounters one teacher that, despite flappy shoes, dirty stocking, hungry bellies, does not judge the poor kids of Limerick, Frank included.
The teacher says, "You have to study and learn so that you can make up your own mind about history and everything else, but you can't make up an empty mind. Stock your mind. Stock your mind. It is your house of treasure and no one in the world can interfere with it... you might be poor, your shoes might be broken, but your mind is a palace."