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Philomena: A Mother, Her Son, and a Fifty-Year Search (2009)

by Martin Sixsmith

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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6162532,921 (3.44)39
When she fell pregnant as a teenager in Ireland in 1952, Philomena Lee was sent to the convent at Roscrea in Co. Tipperary to be looked after as a fallen woman. She cared for her baby for three years until the Church took him from her and sold him, like countless others, to America for adoption. Coerced into signing a document promising never to attempt to see her child again, she nonetheless spent the next fifty years secretly searching for him, unaware that he was searching for her from across the Atlantic. Philomena's son, renamed Michael Hess, grew up to be a top Washington lawyer and a leading Republican official in the Reagan and Bush administrations. But he was a gay man in a homophobic party where he had to conceal not only his sexuality but, eventually, the fact that he had AIDs. With little time left, he returned to Ireland and the convent where he was born: his desperate quest to find his mother before he died left a legacy that was to unfold with unexpected consequences for all involved. Philomena is the tale of a mother and a son whose lives were scarred by the forces of hypocrisy on both sides of the Atlantic and of the secrets they were forced to keep. With a foreword by Judi Dench, Martin Sixsmith's book is a compelling and deeply moving narrative of human love and loss, both heartbreaking yet ultimately redemptive.… (more)
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» See also 39 mentions

English (23)  Italian (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (25)
Showing 1-5 of 23 (next | show all)
Il trailer del film mi ispirava tantissimo, ma confesso di aver mancato di vederlo tra una cosa e l'altra. Quando ho scoperto che esisteva anche un libro, mi ci sono fiondata sopra senza esitazioni.

Ho avuto quasi subito un piccolo shock. Dal titolo italiano (e dal trailer del film), mi aspettavo la storia di lei e della sua ricerca del figlio. Invece, è per lo più la storia della vita del figlio (e infatti il titolo originale, molto più calzante, è The Lost Child of Philomena Lee).

Detto questo, non so bene da dove iniziare per descrivere quanto questo libro abbia fatto a pezzi il mio cuore. E questo a dispetto di alcune licenze poetiche che l'autore si è preso nel raccontare i fatti (e che, ne sono consapevole, fanno solo scena): ho alzato gli occhi al cielo, ma il mio naso è rimasto sprofondato nella lettura. E anche a dispetto del fatto che alcune parti sono davvero lente.

Il punto è che la storia è così forte da non fermarsi neanche davanti alle mancanze dell'autore. Continuo a pensarci anche se sono passati molti giorni da quando l'ho finito, e non è qualcosa che mi capiti spesso.

Potrei parlarvi della crudeltà di quelle suore, di quelle parole orribili che nessuna donna dovrebbe mai, mai, mai sentirsi dire. Tutto quello sventolare il peccato per essere rimasta incinta fuori dal matrimonio per costringere quelle poverette a diventare una miniera d'oro per il convento mi ha fatto venire da vomitare. Vendere bambini strappati alle madri solo per far soldi, senza curarsi minimamente dell'idoneità delle famiglie adottanti è criminale.

Quanto tutto questo sia stato terribile lo vediamo nel non rassegnarsi di Philomena, nel voler sapere dov'è suo figlio, se sta bene. E lo vediamo anche nel figlio, nella sua convinzione che sua madre lo stia cercando, nel suo bisogno di sapere la verità su di sé e sulle sue radici.

Non vi dirò di più. Vi consiglio soltanto di leggerlo e amarne la storia (cercando di lasciare da parte le capacità dell'autore). E' davvero una storia che merita di essere letta. ( )
  Baylee_Lasiepedimore | May 13, 2022 |
Fieldnotes:
Sean Ross Abbey, Roscrea, Ireland, 1952
Washington, DC, 1980s


1 Unwed Mother
1 Son with a Sunny Disposition
1 Harsh "Mother and Baby" Home
Paid-for Adoption Scandals
1 Woman Eager for a Daughter
Orphans as Christmas Presents

Homosexuality
Guilt and Abandonment Issues
AIDS Crisis

1 Career in the Republican Party
1 (or is it 2?) Double Life
1 Unending Quest to Find His Mother

The Short Version
A tragic and often-times enraging (purportedly) true story about Irish mother and baby homes, paid for adoptions and the Reagan administration's homophobia and response (or lack thereof) to the AIDS crisis told by chronicling the life of Michael Hess (born Anthony Lee at Roscrea) in its complexity as he and his mother Philomena, who was coerced to give him up for adoption, searched for one another and hit stumbling block after unnecessary stumbling block.

I actually would have been interested to know more about the author's investigative work and interactions with Philomena as to be honest, I found the recreated conversations of Mike's life off-putting - not least because a bunch of Midwesterners apparently used extremely British word choice and sentence structure (and also because Mike was dead before Sixsmith began work on this project so presumably had little to no access to his conversations, inner feelings or thoughts)...

I am glad I read it, but will definitely be reaching for something lighter next! ( )
  Caramellunacy | Jul 28, 2021 |
I applaud the investigative work that went into this book. It is very revealing to learn about this era in Ireland and the practice that occurred of giving away children who had mothers present, especially as the children were toddlers who had bonded to their mothers.

Perhaps because of the movie that resulted, I expected the book to tell more about Philomena's life and her quest to find her son. But a large part of the book covers her son's life after being adopted, in great detail. I don't know if the author was constrained in providing the same level of detail about Philomena but I was craving more information about how her life unfolded after the separation. I also thought there might be more about how the author worked together with Philomena to research what happened, that their relationship might be part of the story. This information, too, is pretty scant. At the end, it left me wanting to see the movie not just because of the subject but in hopes that some of the information gaps have been filled. ( )
  jjpseattle | Aug 2, 2020 |
Reading this was a weird experience. I was aware of the film made of the story, and broadly what it was about, but I haven’t seen the film and didn’t know how it played out. I knew it was based on a true story. This book has photo plates at two points with photos of the actual characters which felt like a bonus, and I deliberately didn’t look at any of them until I got to the pages where they were.

Weird stuff: The book has Steve Coogan and Judi Dench (from the film) on the front cover, but while the novel is supposedly being narrated by the Coogan-character, the Judi Dench character isn’t really in it at all. Not at a time when she could reasonably have looked anything like Judi Dench. I don’t know why the book was called Philomena at all. I would have called it Mike. And then when I got to the second lot of photos, they delivered a spoiler of such enormity that to a reading-in-good-faith reader like me it was like being punched in the face. Presumably the people who put out this version of the novel arrogantly assumed that everyone would have already seen the film. Well I hadn’t.

I finished the novel, grudgingly, feeling increasingly irritated by the plodding style and the lack of anything really happening other than a constant repetition of the same self-destructive spiral the main character was in. That’s often the thing with stories based on real life - people’s lives just don’t conform to the literary rules relating to the gradual build up of drama. Interesting to note that when I finally reached the end and googled the film, a lot of changes to the real life events were made. So this book is really aimed at people who liked the film and wanted to know the other - more factual - side. Good luck to them. All I came out with was a profound feeling of relief that I wasn’t brought up Catholic. ( )
  jayne_charles | Dec 22, 2019 |
When she became pregnant as a teenager in Ireland in 1952, Philomena Lee was sent to a convent to be looked after as a "fallen woman." Then the nuns took her baby from her and sold him, like thousands of others, to America for adoption. Fifty years later, Philomena decided to find him. Meanwhile, Philomena's son had become a leading lawyer in the first Bush administration, andon a quest to find his mother. SOFT
  JRCornell | Jan 29, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 23 (next | show all)
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sixsmith, MartinAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Curless, JohnAuthorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Sister Annuciata cursed the electric.
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If we lose sight of our actions as having meaning in themselves, if we think only of winning, rather than the purpose of what we are doing, we can easily lose our way. (Roger Allan Moore)
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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When she fell pregnant as a teenager in Ireland in 1952, Philomena Lee was sent to the convent at Roscrea in Co. Tipperary to be looked after as a fallen woman. She cared for her baby for three years until the Church took him from her and sold him, like countless others, to America for adoption. Coerced into signing a document promising never to attempt to see her child again, she nonetheless spent the next fifty years secretly searching for him, unaware that he was searching for her from across the Atlantic. Philomena's son, renamed Michael Hess, grew up to be a top Washington lawyer and a leading Republican official in the Reagan and Bush administrations. But he was a gay man in a homophobic party where he had to conceal not only his sexuality but, eventually, the fact that he had AIDs. With little time left, he returned to Ireland and the convent where he was born: his desperate quest to find his mother before he died left a legacy that was to unfold with unexpected consequences for all involved. Philomena is the tale of a mother and a son whose lives were scarred by the forces of hypocrisy on both sides of the Atlantic and of the secrets they were forced to keep. With a foreword by Judi Dench, Martin Sixsmith's book is a compelling and deeply moving narrative of human love and loss, both heartbreaking yet ultimately redemptive.

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