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Slight Irish touch helps '''Tis"

"Thats your dreams out now," author Frank McCourt writes in "'Tis," the sequel-memoir of the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Angela's Ashes." And certainly McCourt can claim those dreams with a second book as well written as his first.

McCourt picks up where his life story left off in his first book -- on a boat about to dock in America. With the same sense of humor, clever prose and opened eyes, McCourt writes of his hard labor jobs and academic and social struggles at New York University, girl problems and family relationships with the same ease present in his first novel.

But it is a great regret that this time around, McCourt must depart from his native Ireland as a subject, taking his readers to America. Much of "Angela's Ashes'" charm relied on its Irish setting, cultural idiosyncrasies and original characters, all of which greatly complimented his unique writing style. Writing about the United States, McCourt's literary prose does not waver, but the tale's originality falters and is diluted with Americanisms. These Americanisms in turn affect the story, both culturally and linguistically.

Dust Jacket
Author: Frank McCourt
367 pages
Price: $26.00

While McCourt cannot change his personal past, it is the moments when he returns to Ireland in his mind's eye, school essays or visits to his mother, that are the most captivating and exquisitely written parts of the novel.

"Youd think that after all the miserable days in Limerick I wouldnt even want to go back to Ireland but when the plane approaches the coast and the shadows of clouds are moving across the fields and its all green and mysterious I cant stop myself from crying I wouldnt be able to describe the feeling that came around my heart about Ireland because there are no words for it and I never knew Id feel this way," he writes while on furlough from the American army during the Korean War.

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  • McCourt cleverly exposes the fine line between being an American, Irish-American and being plain Irish throughout the book. "Its not enough to be plain American. You always have to be something else, Irish-American, German-American, and youd wonder how theyd get along if someone hadnt invented the hyphen," he notes.

    This dichotomy is very real for McCourt. It sets the frame for the novel, and the reader can comprehend the complicated emotional world in which McCourt lives because of it.

    "Stick to your own, stick to your own. I'm in New York, land of the free and home of the brave, but I'm supposed to behave as if I were still in Limerick, Irish at all times," McCourt writes.

    Being literally and literar-ily caught between two cultures and countries is what drives the book and makes it original.

    Although the story of immigration and assimilation into America is one that can be claimed by many families, McCourt never really loses his Irish upbringing and sense of the world, much like his brogue never leaves his speech.

    In the same way his accent betrays his immigration, McCourt's American cultural ignorance constantly gets him into trouble socially in the novel.

    It is this dichotomy and the author's insight into personal situations and people that propel the book, causing tensions that create interesting, painful, as well as laughable situations.

    While McCourt certainly should not have stayed in Ireland and thus possibly deprived the world of "Angela's Ashes," perhaps he will return in his next novel to his childhood country -- for this certainly is a subject better suited to and deserving of his beautifully wrought prose: " ... and its the same old feeling when the plane descends and follows the Shannon Estuary. The river gleams silver and the fields rolling away are somber shades of green except where the sun shines and emeralds the land"


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