Sent by their mother to live with their devout, self-sufficient grandmother in a small Southern town, Maya and her brother, Bailey, endure the ache of abandonment and the prejudice of the local “powhitetrash.” At eight years old and back at her mother’s side in St. Louis, Maya is attacked by a man many times her age—and has to live with the consequences for a lifetime. Years later, in San Francisco, Maya learns that love for herself, the kindness of others, her own strong spirit, and the ideas of great authors (“I met and fell in love with William Shakespeare”) will allow her to be free instead of imprisoned.
Poetic and powerful, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings will touch hearts and change minds for as long as people read.
Publication date: November 1993
I have wanted to read this book for a long time so when it came up as the book we were going to read for my local book club I was excited. I was aware that it was an auto-biography (one of my favourite sub-genres of non-fiction) and as such I was expecting it to cover Angelou’s entire life in one book like every other autobiography I have read before. I was therefore surprised to find that this was one of 7 autobiographies that Angelou wrote. In light of the fact that the end of this book only covered up to 16th or 17th year it is a reasonable assumption that the remaining six books in this series cover a particular period in her life with the entire collection focussing on her entire life.
I have read many reviews on this book with the vast majority being very complimentary and for good reason. The writing style, descriptions made, and the way that Angelou manages to draw the reader into the story all play a significant part in this book being a more than worthwhile read. The reader certainly isn’t left feeling that they’ve wasted his/her time in reading it.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings talks about Maya, her life, and her family in a period of American history where the lines between black and white people were extremely distinct and adhered to stringently especially where white folk were concerned. Maya was, for her age, a very intellectual mature girl. She lives with her grandmother whom she calls Mumma which is a term she also used for her birth mother so this could get a bit confusing at times. Maya father was not at all a nice person. In fact, at one time when Maya was staying with her dad he took her to Mexico where at one stage he left Maya alone in a bar that contained prostitutes and drunks while he went off and got drunk among other things. There was a rape scene described but it was done in a way that was very matter of fact (Maya didn’t understand what was happening to her at the time) which made the whole scene even worse. The grandmother was a very strong character who had a very strong faith and insisted on her grandchildren going to church with her whenever she did. Maya’s grandmother I believe was a stabilising influence on both Maya and her brother Bailey in spite of their own parents being absent for a lot of their lives.
The descriptions that Maya made throughout the book (with one exception) were on the whole not overdone but just the right amount to keep the reader’s interest. Additionally, the style of writing, whilst mature sounding, stayed true to the fact that it was written from the viewpoint of a child trying to make sense of this part of her life.
Recommend for: Adults