Tis: A Memoir
Frank McCourt's glorious childhood memoir, Angela's Ashes, has been loved and celebrated by readers everywhere for its spirit, its wit and its profound humanity. A tale of redemption, in which storytelling itself is the source of salvation, it won the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Rarely has a book so swiftly found its place on the literary landscape.
And now we have 'Tis, the story of Frank's American journey from impoverished immigrant to brilliant teacher and raconteur. Frank lands in New York at age nineteen, in the company of a priest he meets on the boat. He gets a job at the Biltmore Hotel, where he immediately encounters the vivid hierarchies of this "classless country," and then is drafted into the army and is sent to Germany to train dogs and type reports. It is Frank's incomparable voice -- his uncanny humor and his astonishing ear for dialogue -- that renders these experiences spellbinding.
When Frank returns to America in 1953, he works on the docks, always resisting what everyone tells him, that men and women who have dreamed and toiled for years to get to America should "stick to their own kind" once they arrive. Somehow, Frank knows that he should be getting an education, and though he left school at fourteen, he talks his way into New York University. There, he falls in love with the quintessential Yankee, long-legged and blonde, and tries to live his dream. But it is not until he starts to teach -- and to write -- that Frank finds his place in the world. The same vulnerable but invincible spirit that captured the hearts of readers in Angela's Ashes comes of age.
As Malcolm Jones said in his Newsweek review of Angela's Ashes, "It is only the best storyteller who can so beguile his readers that he leaves them wanting more when he is done...and McCourt proves himself one of the very best." Frank McCourt's 'Tis is one of the most eagerly awaited books of our time, and it is a masterpiece.
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Frank McCourt’s autobiography “’Tis: A Memoir,” (Scribner, 1999) is easily summed up in his own words:
“It’s not enough to be an American. You always have to be something else, Irish-American, German-American, and you’d wonder how they’d get along if someone hadn’t invented the hyphen.”
This quote not only provides a glimpse of the wit and wisdom of the writer, but also gives a sense of the kinds of struggles he faced as a young Irishman in post World War 2 America.
Frank McCourt is a talented writer and has made contributions to many people’s lives over the years in various ways. Sadly, his story could have been appreciated by a much wider audience had he chosen to use less vulgarities. Personal struggle and life in general seems difficult enough without offending the reader with the plethora of misplaced vernacular.
Reminding us to laugh at the abundance of life is a lesson we may learn from McCourt’s transparency. McCourt does not hold back the punches though as she shares his thoughts and life lessons. His work shares many similarities to Mac Hyman’s 1954 novel “No Time for Sergeants” (and movie by the same name)—which makes one wonder how or when we lost the way to laugh at the discomfitures of life.
Picks up where Angela's Ashes left off. Frank is now in NY and he has a whole new group of problems to face. He didn't graduate from high school yet he dreams of being a teacher. He watches all the pretty girls and dreams of marrying one of his own. Frank realizes soon after that getting what you want isn't always for the best.
From cleaning the lobby of the Biltmore, to his red eyes and destroyed teeth, to his love affair with Emer, to joining the army and being sent to Germany, to trading coffee and cigarettes for time with a refugee prostitute, to losing Emer to a respectable insurance salesman, to living in one bad apartment after another, being envious of his brothers who are successful, to acting like his father, to meeting his future wife Mike, to breaking up with her, to marrying her; McCourt details all the horrible and wonderful events of his life in a somber and true fashion. His memory is astounding. The priest who wanted McCourt to touch him in his pants was horrible. McCourt stumbles through religion and coming of age as he grows up in the sixties and seventies. The best passages involved his teaching. His mother and father die at the end and I'm left wondering if he meant to do the entire story in one book - hence the first being Angela's Ashes. A bit confusing at times and nowhere near the masterpiece of the first, it was still enjoyable and well done.