Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Book Review: I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

Title:  I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Author:  Dr. Maya Angelou
Publication Year:  2009

Description from Amazon: 
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 about love for herself and 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 is a modern American classic that will touch hearts and change minds for as long as people read.

I Gave It:  5 Stars and before I tell you why, please watch the video of Dr. Angelou reciting "Still, I Rise."

I wanted you to watch the video because this is the the voice I had in my head as I read her beautiful prose.  She sang her story to me, the highs and lows, the heartbreaks and the inner wisdom gained.  Her autobiography left me shaking my head at the events in her life, indeed, at the mindset of her era.  Of course, the ripple effects of history are still felt today but they can only be understood and annihilated when we look to the past.  Dr. Angelou could have been a victim of many things but she chose not to; knowing her background now, I have even more appreciation for this wise woman's accomplishments and attitude.

Dr. Angelou's prose is bursting with metaphors that will have you tasting, smelling, and feeling her life as a little black girl in Stamps, Arkansas.  Have you ever sat down for Sunday breakfast in a small, Southern town?  The table is set for us by Maya's grandmother whom they call Momma.  "She fried thick pink slabs of home-cured ham and poured the grease over sliced red tomatoes.  Eggs over easy, fried potatoes and onions, yellow hominy and crisp perch fried so hard we would pop them in our mouths and chew bones, fins and all."  Served with a side of cathead biscuits.  Just the type of meal that would keep you full from morning till after church services - something that was never missed in Momma's household.  Growing up, little Maya was quite sure that "God was white, too, but no one could have made me believe he was prejudiced."  This was no easy feat in a town where "people used to say that the whites...were so prejudiced that a Negro couldn't buy vanilla ice cream.  Except on July Fourth.  Other days he had to be satisfied with chocolate."  That paints the picture, doesn't it?

Segregation hung thick in the air of Dr. Angelou's hometown.  Her observations of its reality leave a lasting impression on the reader.       

Her relationship with her grandmother, her grandmother's relationship with the Church, and the abandonment by her parents carried her through her childhood and then from state to state as a youth.  Her brother, Bailey, is her closest friend for much of her childhood though they remain on separate journeys - parts of which they could not share.

In the many homes in which Dr. Angelou lived, amongst the many people who played roles in her life, you bear witness to the birth of her great spirit through this book and watch her rise.  

If you enjoy autobiographies, African-American history, or well-written prose with golden nuggets of wisdom, you will enjoy this book.    

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