Now a major motion picture directed by Stephen Frears (The Queen, High Fidelity) and starring Judi Dench (Skyfall, Notes on a Scandal) and Steve Coogan (The Trip, Hamlet 2): the heartbreaking true story of an Irishwoman and the secret she kept for 50 years. 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, on the other side of the Atlantic, Philomena's son was trying to find her. Renamed Michael Hess, he had become a leading lawyer in the first Bush administration, and he struggled to hide secrets that would jeopardize his career in the Republican Party and endanger his quest to find his mother.
A gripping exposé told with novelistic intrigue, Philomena pulls back the curtain on the role of the Catholic Church in forced adoptions and on the love between a mother and son who endured a lifelong separation.
©2009 Martin Sixsmith (P)2013 Recorded Books
“A searingly poignant account of forced adoption and its consequences.” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review)
“Heartbreaking . . . a story that needed to be told.” (The Independent)
“Emotionally compelling.” (Library Journal)
The story was anchored in historical and personal truths. We see the story not only from the lens of the mother, the son, but the characters that were involved in the orphanage as well as the politicians during that time who were responsible for the clamp down of the Irish orphanages. The author, Martin Sixsmith, was able to bring the stories alive through dialog between the characters which was written in to enhance the dramatic and emotional depths of the story.
The story is actually a perfect accompaniment to the movie. While the movie focuses on the mother's search for the son, the story book and the audio book focuses more on the story of Philomena's son search for the mother and the consequences of not knowing his birth mother and the effects of being separated from his birth mother which affects his identity and his sense of self worth, and ultimately his relationships.
The narrator, John Curless, did an amazing job in expressing the nuances of the book. He uses appropriate Irish accents, different voice tones to denote different characters. He was not only effective in engaging the reader with the facts but communicated the emotional nuances of the story. I would like to listen to another story or book narrated by him
The psychological analysis of Michael Hess, Philomena's son by Pete Nilsson and Susan Kavanaugh, Mike's closest lady friend was insightful as it gave the reader/listener deep insights into why Mike became self destructive and how this connects to his feelings about not knowing who he was. The other moment that was especially moving was the part when the author described Philomena;s second loss after she received news about her son's fate and how she was eventually dealt with the information she was given by her son's partner. These two moments of the book (which happened towards the end) touched me very deeply. I felt Philomena's pain.
As most of you probably know (due to publicity about the recent film based on Sixsmith's book), this is the true story of a young Irish woman sent a to convent to give birth, and of the son who was taken away from her at the age of three--sold, in effect, to an American couple. Fifty years later, Philomena reveals her secret to her family and launches a search for the long-lost son that she has always felt has been looking for her.
In a New York Times interview about the film, Steve Coogan, who plays Sixsmith, says, "“We didn’t want to become overly involved in the life of Anthony Lee or Michael Hess. What appealed to me was the search for the son and the tragedy of not being able to see him grow up. That’s how Philomena experienced it; it was just out of reach, just beyond her.” This explains the main difference between the movie and the book, which focuses predominantly not on Philomena's search but on the successful but sad life of her son.
Anthony Lee was just three when he was adopted, as an afterthought, by the sister of an American bishop and her husband. The family, who had three boys of their own, had always wanted a daughter, but medical problems prevented them from trying again for one of their own. When she met Mary at Sean Ross Abbey, Marge was struck by the affectionate, dark-haired little boy who hovered over her like a protective brother. And so the two were adopted together. Like all of the young mothers at the abbey, Philomena Lee was forced to sign papers giving up all rights to her son and agreeing never to attempt to find or contact him.
It is the story of Anthony, renamed Michael Anthony Hess, that fills most of Sixsmith's pages: growing up in a strict Catholic family in the Midwest, trying to please an adoptive father who hadn't been too keen on his adoption in the first place and becoming an over-achiever as a result, struggling with his sexual identity, rising to a major post in the Reagan administration, and, always, being haunted by the memories of Ireland and the feeling that the mother he left behind was looking for him. Realizing the effect this loss has had on his life, especially on his ability to feel close to other people, Mike makes several visits to Sean Ross Abbey in hopes of learning more about his origins, but, following investigations into wrongdoing by the Irish government, the books are closed (or lost, transferred, or burned) forever.
The final chapters return to Philomena's encounter with Sixsmith and their efforts to locate Anthony, a journey that comes to a bittersweet end.
I have to agree with a reviewer who questioned the account of Michael Hess's emotions. Although Sixsmith did interview people who had known him well (including his sister Mary, former coworkers and lovers, and several friends), all of these people admit that Mike was a very private man who compartmentalized his life and rarely revealed anything personal to anyone. So while Sixsmith does a fine job of imagining what Mike may have been thinking or feeling, it came as rather a shock in the end to realize that the man himself had not been consulted in the writing of this book. (Yes, I do know why, but I'm trying to leave spoilers out of my review.) It also made me suspect that Sixsmith was promoting an agenda beyond telling Philomena's story and advocating for more open adoption laws.
But all this is in retrospect. Despite these concerns, Philomena is a moving and engaging story. Four stars here. I'm eager to see the movie version; although the emphasis shifts from Mike to his mother, that's to be expected when Judi Dench has been cast in the title role.
I feel like the description was very misleading. Yes. It is a very sad real life story, but I thought it would be more about the search for mother and son. The majority of the story is about details completely unrelated to the description.
No to Martin Sixmith. I expected investigative journalism and got a long - winded biography. Yes to John Curless. He is an excellent performer and easy on the ears.
I expected this to be a combination of a detective story and investigated journalism. The book started out fine with philomena's story, but about 9 of the first 12 hours is a biography of Philomena's son in excruciating detail. I have only 3 hours left in the book and still haven't come back to Philomena's story. I'm about to give up. Michael's story is a bit interesting but not hours and hours worth and he's not a very likeable person. I'm seriously disappointed and wish I hadn't wasted my time.
I enjoyed reading about philomena's time in the convent with Anthony.
The reader was fantastic.
Enjoying one good listen after the next!
I liked this book, although be forewarned that this is not about Philomena (except for the final 30 minutes) but is about her son and his lifelong search for himself and his mother.
Anthony Lee/Michael is adopted after Philomena is forced to give him up at the age of three. This book is about his heart-wrenching search to find himself and understand why he was given up for adoption. The book graphically recounts life with a brutal, demanding adoptive father and bullying adoptive brothers; as well as his life-long close relationship with a loving adoptive mother and his "sister" who was also from his Irish orphanage.
This is truly a "history" book that charts the painful experiences of gay men in a Republican-dominated society where the conservative right damns homosexuality. The story transpires from the early 1950's to present day. Amazingly, Anthony Lee/Michael, a gay man, became a top executive in the Republican National Party, working to ensure the Republican party's success in garnering a majority in Congress. Like Michael's life, his career success was an irony of the worse kind. Michael's story includes the spectre of AIDS and the discrimination it held in that time.
More importantly, the book depicts in all its horror, the role of the Catholic Church in brutalizing teenage pregnant girls and enslaving them as warrens of the church until their "debt" had been repaid. The story tells the facts about how the church sold thousands of babies for large sums to adoptive US parents, doing so against the wishes of their young mothers who were brow beaten as well as physically abused by the nuns in charge of their "care."
This is a sad story, but one that deserves to be told and read. Eye opening. A bit sad. Terrifyingly real. A page turner.
If it had been about Philomena it might have been a good book.
The blurb didn't match the book at all. I wish I'd read the reviews. I would NOT have bought it.
Retired RN. Listen to about 4 audiobooks a month. "The only important thing in a book is the meaning that it has for you" & a good narrator.
I am so glad I bought this book on sale. I didn't care for it. Only the very beginning and some of the end of the book are about Philomena. Most of the book is about her "lost" son and follows him year by year by year. He was very self destructive and because of that, I found the book dark and depressing. I rushed to watch the movie after finishing the book because I knew that followed Judi Dench's character. First time where I enjoyed the movie more than the book.
I got this book because I was anxious to see the movie and am waiting for it to be released on DVD.
I have to agree with the other reviews that express a disappointment with the title and the publisher's summary. Perhaps it would have been better titled "Michael, Fifty Years of Looking for Closure".
Yes, it was a shocking and moving story at points, but I would of liked to hear less about Michael or at least more about what Philomena was experiencing.
I fast forwarded through many chapters about Michael's political career, because I just didn't find his personal life or working career of interest, and I was growing tired of the author injecting his thinly disguised political views.
I so wanted to hear more about Philomena and what was going on in her life, what she was thinking but that was thrown in at the end.
I don't think I will be seeing the movie now.
Tangential, eclectic, avid listener... favorite book is the one currently in ear.
This book is beautifully narrated, well written... and both the beginning and end are touching and poignant. My heart aches for Philomena and her son... however, this is not Philomena's story at all... it is the story of her son and his forced adoption from Ireland into a dysfunctional American family. His successes, failures and behavior that sounds much like Borderline Personality Disorder. The middle of this book drags you into leather and whip male relationships... and much more... I was forced to repeatedly fast forward. I did feel like it is a bait and switch book with a very liberal and political agenda being promoted. I was very unhappy with the false advertising.
I purchased this book according to the publisher's comments, and discovered it to be a horse of an entirely different color! This is NOT the poignant tale of some poor illiterate Irish lady who spends fifty years looking for her son! This is a novel (I cannot even be sure whether it is truth or fiction) about a gay man's rise in Washington politics during the Carter/Reagan administrations.
What can I say? It's like that line, "Where's the beef?" I am two hours away from the end of this story, and while the storyline itself is okay, my whole conception of this book is tainted by the fact that I WAS LIED TO by the publishers. I just wish that a more accurate synopsis of the piece were given in the first place. I would NOT have purchased this book as I don't care for political intrigue enough to spend fifteen hours listening to it.
I gather now, after reading other listener reviews of this book, that there is currently a movie in the works that tells the story from the mother's point of view. This makes me very suspicious of the publisher's motives in presenting the story as "apples" when in reality it is "oranges". If, after a twelve-year very satisfactory history with Audible, I now have to do a background check on every single book I contemplate purchasing, it is, indeed, a sad state of affairs.
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