Philomena

  • by Martin Sixsmith
  • Narrated by John Curless
  • 15 hrs and 38 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

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.

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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)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

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.


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- Fajola Wenders

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.
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- Cariola

Book Details

  • Release Date: 10-07-2013
  • Publisher: Recorded Books