Monday, 23 July 2012
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings is the first volume of Maya Angelou's autobiography and deals mainly with her childhood in the rural town of Stamps, Arkansas. Sent to her grandmother after her parents separate, Maya and her brother come of age in a Southern small town in the 1930s where segregation is total and racism everywhere. At eight, Maya moves to St Louis to live with her mother and is raped by her mother's new boyfriend before later experiencing new freedoms as a teenager in California.
I've been meaning to read this book for the longest time and it certainly lived up to my expectations. Angelou writes in a very simple way but her writing is extraordinarily evocative of place. Whether it was the general store in Stamps, the gambling clubs in St Louis or the slums of California, I felt as though I was right there with Angelou. She even manages to capture the atmosphere of each setting and infuse them with a sense of time and history.
There were some fantastic character portraits too. I enjoyed the sketch of the cotton pickers lining up at dawn outside the store full of optimism but back later in the evening with half empty sacks and wounded hands, full of worry about how they would feed their family through winter. Maya writes without judgement, which means she can provide a balanced portrayal of her mother, who wants to be a good mum but who is caught up in the excitement and glamour of life. Of course the character of Maya's grandmother comes through very strongly as she was the person who had the most impact on the young Maya. Her pride, strength and values are clear to see.
Even though this book deals with a lot of 'issues', I was pleased to see that it was also a coming of age story. Whilst racism, crime and rape are dealt with powerfully by Angelou, at it's heart I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings is about the universal experience of growing up and contains hope as well as hardships. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it but did find the ending a bit abrupt. I know there are several other volumes in the autobiography but it would have been nice if this volume had a more complete ending, rather than just suddenly stopping at a new life event.
Recommended to everyone that's not had a chance to read it yet, this is an important book.
Source: Personal copy
First Published: 1983
Score: 4 out of 5
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I always wanted to read this, so I'm glad it's a good 'un. I always loved her poetry at school and she sounds like a fascinating woman.ReplyDelete
I like her poetry too Lyndsay, hope you enjoy this book when you get a chance to read it.Delete
You've made me want to reread this! I read it many years ago and remember loving it; you're so right, she does have wonderfully evocative writing. I've just taken an interest in some of Angelou's other lesser known books and am enjoying them too.ReplyDelete
Rereading isn't a bad thing - I don't do it often enough. I'm always anxious to get on to the next 'new' book. Which other Angelou books would you recommend?Delete
I looooved this book so much, and I just got the other 5 volumes of her autobiography (I may have blabbled about this to you before...) so I'm quite excited/interested to read them, although I hear that this one is basically the best. But still, HEART this.ReplyDelete
You got them through the book people, right? I'll be interested to read your thoughts on them.Delete
This is on my to be read list, but I think I should bump it up a bit now having read this review. Thanks!ReplyDelete
I think you would like it Bethany. It was on my TBR pile for far too long!Delete
I really need to pick this up soon. I've been meaning to read it for ages and said the exact same thing when Brenna reviewed it not long ago. She's such a powerful female writer and it's embarrassing that I haven't read it yet. Sounds incredibly moving.ReplyDelete
Beth, it was moving, especially the amount of hope in the book given what Maya went through in her early life. I'm glad that I made the time to finally read it.Delete
I've wanted to read this for ages, too. So glad it lived up to your expectations.ReplyDelete