I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Monday, December 3, 2012


I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

by Maya Angelou
★★★★☆
 
The author’s memoir of her childhood has long been revered as a classic, but I approached the book hesitantly. I was worried it would be one long, depressing look at her horrible upbringing. I was so wrong and I ended up enjoying every bit of this beautiful story.
 
Angelou has an incredible talent for painting poetic scenes of the simplest acts. She writes about everything from the deep connection between siblings to the loneliness that comes from abandonment. She describes the pure joy of uncontrollable laughter in the middle of a church sermon and the agonizing feeling of knowing you don’t belong. Each scene comes alive under the skilled pen and her poetic prowess is clear from the first pages.
 
The book starts with her early years when she and her brother Bailey are shipped to Arkansas to be raised by their Grandma after their parents split up. The family ran a local grocery store, but lived a cautious life. They were African American and the Klan was still in operation in the community.
 
Angelou was later moved between her mother’s home in St. Louis and her father’s home in California; each time having to adjust to a new environment and try and find some semblance of normality. As a teen she lived in San Francisco, an area that is now proud to claim her as one of its own.  
 
**SPOILERS**

I think one of the main reasons I thought this book would be so dour is because I’d heard bits about the Angelou’s life. When she was only 8-years-old she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. Later she lives in a junkyard after fighting with her father’s new wife. She went through some incredibly heartbreaking things, but she never lets them destroy her. She is so strong and she managed to survive everything life threw her way.  
 
**SPOILERS OVER**
 
BOTTOM LINE: I expected to find a depressing story of persecution and bad luck; instead I found a coming-of-age tale with a powerful message of survival.  She absolutely had bad things happen to her along the way, but her enduring strength and optimism and her ability to tell her story without lamenting all she’d been through was truly inspiring.
 
“Children’s talent to endure stems from their ignorance of alternatives.”
 
“He was away in a mystery, locked in the enigma that young Southern Black boys start to unravel, start to try to unravel, from seven years old to death. The humorless puzzle of inequality and hate. His experience raised the question of worth and values, of aggressive inferiority and aggressive arrogance.”

12 comments:

Anne said...

I read this a long time ago but I remember being very moved by it. It is a wonderful book.

Becky (Page Turners) said...

Ive got all of her books and still haven't read any of them. I hope to read them soon thoug, I have only ever heard wonderful things about how uplifting they are

annieb said...

I had the extreme pleasure of hearing her speak at a local university several years ago and she is almost better in person. Her speaking voice is incredible. I have also read several of her books, including her cookbook, and loved every one.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Anne - I was surprised by how much I loved it.

Becky - This is the very first of her's that I've read, but I'd love to read more now.

Annieb - I would love to see her speak! I've seen her on TV before and she has a very calming voice.

Trish said...

And I think that's why this book is so widely read and taught--because of the message of survival and strength. It's been years since I read this one but I would love to revisit it again someday.

Jenners said...

I think I had the same wrong idea about this book as well. I shall have to add it to my TBR list.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Trish - It's definitely one I can see myself re-reading.

Jenners - She goes through so much, it's easy to assume it would be dark!

Pearl said...

good to hear. i hadn'tvknown she's done a memoir as well.

Risa said...

I've never thought of giving this a read. I think I will add it to my list now. :)

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Pearl - I think this is the first in a series of memoirs about her life.

Risa - It's really wonderful!

Laura's Reviews said...

It's one of my favorite books as well. It is such a moving story!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Laura - It truly is. I need to read more of her work.