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Critical Overview

(Nonfiction Classics for Students)

Angela's Ashes was a massive success, becoming one of the most highly acclaimed nonfiction works of the decade. The book won numerous awards, including the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize for biography. It was on the New York Times bestseller list for over two years.

Almost all reviewers praised the book generously. The vividness with which McCourt evoked his childhood was particularly appreciated, as was the hilarity of much of the book. Writing for the New York Times, Michiko Kakutani praised McCourt's skill as a storyteller:

McCourt... waited more than four decades to tell the story of his childhood, and it's been well worth the wait. With Angela's Ashes, he has used the storytelling gifts he inherited from his father to write a book that redeems the pain of his early years with wit and compassion and grace.

Kakutani noted that the book contained little of the resentment or bitterness that a reader might expect to find in the memoirs of a man who had endured almost unimaginable poverty and deprivation in his early years. She also commented favorably on McCourt's descriptive skill:

Writing in prose that's pictorial and tactile, lyrical but streetwise, Mr. McCourt does for the town of Limerick what the young Joyce did for Dublin: he conjures the place for us with such intimacy that we feel we've walked its streets and crawled its pubs.

The verdict of Malcolm Jones Jr., in Newsweek, was equally positive: ' 'It is only the best storyteller who can so beguile his readers that he leaves them wanting more when he's done. With Angela's Ashes, McCourt proves himself one of the very best.''

In Time, John Elson described Angela's Ashes as a ‘‘spunky, bittersweet memoir,’’ noting that in spite of the bleakness of the story, McCourt's humor leaves a deeper impression: ''Like an unpredicted glimmer of midwinter sunshine, cheerfulness keeps breaking into this tale of Celtic woe.’’ Elson picked out McCourt's descriptions of his First Communion and his adventures as a post-office messenger as ‘‘riotously funny.’’

Neal Ascheron, in the New York Review of Books, called Angela's Ashes a "wonderful" memoir and pointed out that the central figure is not the Angela of the title but Frank's father, Malachy, whom Ascheron saw as a poignant, almost tragic figure: ‘‘McCourt shows a man who is almost...

(The entire section is 587 words.)