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Angela’s Ashes – a mini-review

by Greg Krehbiel on 3 January 2018

A professional colleague recommended Angela’s Ashes while we were out to dinner one night. I ordered a used copy from Amazon while we were sitting at the table and had it in my hands a week later. (I love Amazon.)

If you complain about your lot in life, you should probably read this book. It’s the story of Frank McCourt’s life, from when his parents met in New York, had to go back to Ireland when he was very young, and when he made it back to the United States as a young man. McCourt grew up extremely poor.

After reading about McCourt, you’ll learn to be thankful for the little things in life, like blankets, indoor plumbing, having food on the table, being free from lice and fleas, having shoes to wear to school, having a father who thinks food for the family is more important than a trip to the pub, etc.

You’ll probably also be tempted to think ill of the Irish, and to sympathize with American shopkeepers who put “no Irish need apply” signs in their windows. The book does nothing to undo anti-Irish prejudices. Rather, the reverse.

Despite the extreme misery in the story, it’s rather funny at times, and it’s amusing to read McCourt’s Irish accent and word choice. I’m not sure I can say that I recommend it, but I’m glad I read it.

2018-01-03  »  Greg Krehbiel

Talkback x 5

  1. Don
    3 January 2018 @ 3:18 pm

    There are large areas of the U.S. that know poverty every bit as desperate, squalid, and wretched as McCourt describes.

    What can be done about it?

  2. Greg Krehbiel Greg Krehbiel
    3 January 2018 @ 3:56 pm

    I’m not sure you’re right about that, but … let’s assume you are.

    What can be done?

    * More jobs from a growing economy.

    * Fewer restrictions on job growth, particularly entry-level jobs (e.g., things like licenses that prevent a lot of people from doing very simple things).

    * More private charity.

    * Better drug and alcohol rehab.

    * A better public safety net.

  3. smitemouth
    3 January 2018 @ 11:29 pm

    My wife grew up very poor in Mexico. When I say very poor, I mean: no electricity, no indoor plumbing, no telephone, no air conditioning, no heating, a “house” with some cardboard walls. Cooking was done over a fire or using a propane stove. They lived in a valley, and once when their was a bad storm, the water was 3 feet high in the “house”. She graduated high school and did some trade school and ended up as a paralegal for the appellate court. She ended up being able to buy a real house–such as they are in Mexico–less than 800 square feet, no heating or AC.

    For New Years eve, we went to Dallas to visit her sobrina (niece). Her niece (39) is married and has 3 kids at home (10, 8, 2 months) and one that is a ~20 and lives near the border. All the kids are US citizens and I’ll leave it at that. Her niece lives in a 14×60 trailer and also the mother in law from Mexico lives there 6 months out of the year. We stayed there 2 nights, so there was 9 of us in the < 900 sq ft space with one bathroom and no central heat. It was cold in Dallas–freezing rain one day, and temps less than 30 degrees during the day and low 20s during the day. They had two cubicle type electric space heaters to try and keep it warm.

    The husband is a cook at a bar and the mother in law works in a restaurant. The MIL is 60 and worked a 10 hour day while we were there. My wife's niece was working for a caterer making sandwiches, but hasn't worked since having the kid.

    They have a hard life, but a happy one. No one seems to be a drunk or addict.

    They probably have it better than some people in Appalacia who can't even find jobs.

  4. Robin R.
    3 January 2018 @ 11:36 pm

    I can live under fairly poor conditions, as long as I don’t have to deal with insects or rodents.

  5. Greg Krehbiel Greg Krehbiel
    4 January 2018 @ 8:38 am

    @SM, yes, it sounds like they are fairly poor.

    One difference that occurred to me between being poor today and being poor in 1950s Ireland is the cost of goods. We’re almost buried in stuff. It doesn’t take much money to have a blanket and a warm coat these days. And food is incredibly cheap. I’ve heard the McDouble described as a miracle of food engineering — in terms of what’s being provided for $1.

    One story that’s not well reported is how much progress has been made against world hunger. There are far fewer people living in extreme poverty today than there were just a couple decades ago. Part of the reason, I suspect, is that stuff is so much cheaper now.

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