Frank McCourt

Hasta La Vista Frank McCourt

Years ago, Frank McCourt reflected on his success after his story of oppressive humiliating poverty became virtually eternal bestseller: “I taught for years and nobody paid me a scrap of attention, and then I write a book about slum life, and Im an expert on everything.”

McCourt was a gentleman who couldnt suppress his wit, much of which was inspired by the hypocrisy of the pious, proud and powerful, whom he observed from the depths of impoverishment.

You get it in the first paragraphs of Angelas Ashes. “When I look back at my childhood I wonderd how I survived at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while.  Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.

“People everywhere brag and whimper about the woes of their early years, but nothing can compare with the Irish version: the poverty; the shiftless loquacious alcoholic father; the pious defeated mother moaning by the fire; pompous priests; bullying schoolmasters; the English and the terrible things they did to us for 800 long years.”

Sounds like the beginning of an epic, and it was. McCourt proved that every family story could be an epic, sometimes a compelling epic, when observed by the right writer, affirming Flauberts insight that everything is interesting, as long as you look at it long enough.

In his 78 years, Frank McCourt endured the Permanent Depression that was Ireland, and recently witnessed the economic revival that no one could have imagined, as Ireland became a improbable financial power in the years from the 1990s until last years free fall. When things were good, the McCourts of Eastern Europe and Africa were actually emigrating – to Ireland, of all places —  to escape from poverty and make better lives. But Ireland collapsed, thanks to greed, folly, and circumstances beyond its control, just at the time when we could use another Frank McCourt to tell that story.

You can watch a magnificent interview with him on C-SPAN. Youll be reminded that Frank McCourt was not just the writer whom you wished you were, but the teacher youd wished you had.

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