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Philomena: A Mother, Her Son, and a Fifty-Year Search | [Martin Sixsmith]

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

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.
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Publisher's Summary

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

What the Critics Say

“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)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.9 (467 )
5 star
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3.9 (422 )
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Story
4.2 (424 )
5 star
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3 star
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2 star
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1 star
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Performance
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  •  
    Julie Wenders Oak Park 12-21-13
    Julie Wenders Oak Park 12-21-13 Member Since 2013
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Rivetting Story and Performance"
    What made the experience of listening to Philomena the most enjoyable?

    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.


    What did you like best about this 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.


    What does John Curless bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    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


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    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.


    15 of 16 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Linda Eagar, Az, United States 03-07-14
    Linda Eagar, Az, United States 03-07-14 Member Since 2011
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    "Misled by description"

    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.

    14 of 15 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Paula Overland Park, KS USA 03-06-14
    Paula Overland Park, KS USA 03-06-14 Member Since 2012

    Enjoying one good listen after the next!

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Should be "Anthony/Michael: His 50 Year Search""

    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.

    13 of 14 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Cariola Chambersburg, PA USA 02-09-14
    Cariola Chambersburg, PA USA 02-09-14 Member Since 2005

    malfi

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Very Moving Story"

    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.

    19 of 22 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Elizabeth St. Paul, MN United States 03-12-14
    Elizabeth St. Paul, MN United States 03-12-14 Member Since 2007

    Fast approaching retirement as a life long oncology nurse. I love family more than anything. I enjoy reading (audio only), movies, travels, paper crafting, photography, gardening and just being alive.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Wrong Title. Book is About the Son."

    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.

    6 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Amazon Customer US, North Carolina 04-03-14
    Amazon Customer US, North Carolina 04-03-14 Member Since 2012

    ChaiKnuckles

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Not what I expected"
    Would you try another book from Martin Sixsmith and/or John Curless?

    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.


    What was most disappointing about Martin Sixsmith’s story?

    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.


    Which scene was your favorite?

    I enjoyed reading about philomena's time in the convent with Anthony.


    You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

    The reader was fantastic.


    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Finnabair Texas 03-14-14
    Finnabair Texas 03-14-14 Member Since 2007

    finnabair

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

    If it had been about Philomena it might have been a good book.


    What was most disappointing about Martin Sixsmith’s story?

    The blurb didn't match the book at all. I wish I'd read the reviews. I would NOT have bought it.


    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Novie Kailua Kona, HI, United States 03-01-14
    Novie Kailua Kona, HI, United States 03-01-14 Member Since 2002

    Retired nightclub performer/computer technician, I now teach hula and ukulele to seniors, and record Hawaiian music for my halau!

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "BAIT AND SWITCH! Definitely not as advertised!"

    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.


    10 of 13 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jan Rochester, NY, United States 03-04-14
    Jan Rochester, NY, United States 03-04-14 Member Since 2011

    Eclectic, avid listener, favorite book is the one currently in ear.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "I want to be tactful"

    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.

    12 of 16 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kimberly FL USA 03-19-14
    Kimberly FL USA 03-19-14

    Say something about yourself!

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Not what I expected"

    This was more of a bio of Michael Hess than about his birth mother and her search for him. I felt deceived.

    4 of 5 people found this review helpful
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