Inspiring the film starring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan, and directed by Stephen Frears, 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.
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.
In 1952, Philomena Lee, a young unwed Irish Catholic woman, was sent away to an abbey in County Tipperary to await the birth of her illegitimate child. Journalist Sixsmith (Russia: A 1,000-Year Chronicle of the Wild East) chillingly recounts the subsequent events. After surviving a harrowing breech birth attended to only by an inexperienced nun, Philomena learned she had to work in the abbey for three years to pay off the cost of her care. She rose at 6 a.m. each day to feed her son, Anthony, before attending Mass and spending the next several hours sweating in the abbey's laundry room. But the worst was yet to come. At the end of Philomena's service, Anthony was taken from her to be placed with "any person" the abbey's Superioress deemed "fit and proper" a practice condoned by the Catholic Church and facilitated by the Irish government. An American couple adopted Anthony, took him to the States, and changed his name to Michael Hess. This part of the book is riveting, but the 50-year search promised in the subtitle takes a backseat to Michael's suburban upbringing and his experiences as a gay man; Philomena all but disappears. The much-anticipated ending of this mother-and-son saga is hurried, incomplete, and unsatisfying. 36 b&w photos.
I am so glad he came home to Ireland and that Philomena found peace of sorts. I often heard my aunt speak of the "cruelty" of the nuns but to deny people the opportunity to put jigsaw pieces together and bring them peace in their lives and re kindle much sought after relationships is very cruel indeed. This book focuses a lot on his career and private life but the longing for his mother and sense of identity were a constant. He felt like he never belonged. I have a similar story but very different circumstances but my feeling is the same I have never belonged to my "family" and I too only have a grave to bond with my mother. Anthony sounded a remarkable man in so many ways and Philomena should be very very proud.
I am surprised that you can get a film made from the text of this book. The title is wrong!! Only a small part of the text relates to a mum and her search for a child that has been adopted. The book in the most part is about the son who has a very anhilistic attitude to the world and blames it on the fact that he was adopted. The system that allowed the adoption is appalling but the story is about a selfish self centred man.
Brilliant read from the first page to the last!