I have always found true stories to be more tragic than anything a fiction writer can conjure up in their imagination.
Among some of the great human tragedies, few are more tormenting for a mother than losing her child.
Young Philomena Lee from Ireland is one such mother.
She did not lose her son, Anthony Lee, to the grim reaper – she was forced to give him up for adoption by none other than the nuns of the Catholic Church.
Philomena fell pregnant out of wedlock which was considered a mortal sin in 1952.
She was sent to a convent for “fallen women” in rural Ireland, where she spent three years with Anthony before he was adopted by an American family – the Hesses.
Young Anthony was taken to America with his best friend at the convent, two-year-old Mary, also the product of an extramarital affair.
Anthony’s name was changed to Michael Hess and this led to Philomena spending 50 years looking for the son she never wanted to give up.
Although the story starts with Philomena as the main character, most of the book is dedicated to Anthony’s life as a gay Republican politician in America.
Sixsmith, a British journalist, succeeds in conveying both Philomena and Anthony’s pain and grief at being separated and how their lives were altered by being apart for half a century.
He also does well to describe Anthony’s sense of rejection after being given away and his constant need for approval and instant gratification – even though Sixsmith never met him.
He spends time on the trend of the Church selling babies like Anthony to American families.
Sixsmith’s investigation into Anthony’s whereabouts in America eventually led to Philomena finding her lost son half a century later.
It was no effort at all to finish the more than 450 pages and I’ll gladly do it again. With interesting twists and raw descriptions of human pain, the reader will not be bored or disappointed. – Lali van Zuydam