This was my first reading of Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt, and this book went straight to my "Books to Buy" list. I listened to the author read his own work, which is usually bad news (you know, interesting book, but a boring person in real life not to mention a terrible performer...) However, in this case I was completely impressed with the text and the audio track. I think it was because McCourt has had theatrical training, and it was fascinating to hear someone read their own memoir.
This is a fascinating book about an immigrant family's struggles in America and on the dole in Ireland around WWII. More specifically, it's about the author's journey from an oppressive boyhood into a liberating adulthood. It is the sad and thought-provoking story that is Irish history, but has extremely humorous parts to balance out the story.
Some great themes to keep your eye out for while reading this gem are:
- blood and animalism: the same blood is found in every creature, basic nature of humans is akin to all animals, animal imagery and symbolism
- religion: the rain and not piety drove them to church, patron saints, the Eucharist, having a sin that no one else has, the schoolmaster telling his boys what their sins are so that the boys know what they are too, the angel on the 7th step, forgiveness
- straddling time and distance: head born in the new year and ass born in the old, rejected by both the traditional world and the modern one, rejected by America and Ireland, America vs. Ireland, America is where there is room for all sorts of uselessness
- debt: there is nothing worse than to owe and be beholden, living on the dole, there is always someone else worse off
- ownership: owning a song or a story, ownership in poverty, having an electric light and lavatory but no good times
- insanity: having to be dragged out of the asylum instead of into it, grief leading to madness
- death and birth: dying animals, dying for Ireland and faith, dying children, adults who still haven't died for Ireland or their faith, death preferable to cold shoulder treatment, troubles beginning the night she was born
- family: roles of family members, father as provider, brothers to help erase memory, American relatives vs. Irish relatives, paternal vs. maternal extended family involvement, telling troubles to earthly father instead of an angel, takes years of practice to learn how to not talk to people