After retiring from teaching writing at a variety of New York City high schools, Frank McCourt was determined to write about his early life in Ireland before coming to America. The result, Angela's Ashes, was published in 1996 by Scribner and sold over 5 million copies; it has been published in 27 countries, translated into 17 languages and has won for McCourt the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Award, the ABBY Award and the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for Biography. Indeed, Angela's Ashes vaulted McCourt from an unknown sixty-year old first-time writer to a world-renowned author.
McCourt's memoir is a detailed account of his infant years in Brooklyn, New York, and his impoverished childhood and adolescence in Limerick, a city in the west of Ireland, to which he returned with his parents, Angela and Malachy McCourt. The author decided to tell his own story, in the present tense, more than forty years after he left an impoverished Ireland. This temporal distance enabled McCourt to come to terms with the horrors and catastrophes that he suffered growing up in 1930's Ireland, such as the death of three siblings, typhoid fever, the loss of a father and gnawing hunger that lasted for years.
McCourt remains objective throughout the memoir without lecturing, hectoring, or remonstrating. And while he might write harshly of his father's alcoholism, he balances his treatment of Malachy McCourt with loving remembrances. Similarly, he doesn't spare his mother, but readers are never in doubt that she was a good mother. He is highly descriptive of the physical suffering he endured, which compliments the emotional guilt invoked by the Catholic Church, especially in areas concerning sexuality. In addition, McCourt's memoir also serves as a record of how humor can help overcome suffering and woe.