A powerful, exquisitely written debut, a recollection of the author's miserable childhood in the slums of Limerick, Ireland, during the Depression and World War II.
McCourt was born in Brooklyn in 1930 but returned to Ireland with his family at the age of four. He describes, not without humor, scenes of hunger, illness, filth, and deprivation that would have given Dickens pause. His "shiftless loquacious alcoholic father,'' Malachy, rarely worked; when he did he usually drank his wages, leaving his wife, Angela, to beg from local churches and charity organizations. McCourt remembers his little sister dying in his mother's arms. Then Oliver, one of the twins, got sick and died. McCourt himself nearly died of typhoid fever when he was ten. As awful and neglectful as his father could be, there were also heartrendingly tender moments: Unable to pay for a doctor and fearful of losing yet another child when the youngest is almost suffocating from a cold, his father places "his mouth on the little nose...sucking the bad stuff out of Michael's head.'' Malachy fled to do war work in England but failed to send any money home, leaving his wife and children, already living in squalor, to further fend for themselves. They stole and begged and tore wood from the walls to burn in the stove. Forced to move in with an abusive cousin, McCourt became aware that the man and his mother were having "the excitement'' up there in their grubby loft. After taking a beating from the man, McCourt ran away to stay with an uncle and spent his teens alternating between petty crime and odd jobs. Eventually he made his way, once again, to America.
An extraordinary work in every way. McCourt magically retrieves love, dignity, and humor from a childhood of hunger, loss and pain.