Book Review | I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou | The eventful childhood of an icon by Mathilde
Maya Angelou is well-known everywhere in the world for her talent and her activism. I know why the caged bird sings was published in 1969 (yup, 40 years ago!) and is the first of her seven powerful and deeply inspiring autobiographies.
In Stamps the segregation was so complete that most Black children didn’t really, absolutely know what whites looked like. (…) I remember never believing that whites were really real.
WHY SHOULD YOU READ THIS MEMOIR?
- You’ve enjoyed “To Kill A Mockingbird”
- You want to get to know Maya Angelou
DON’T RECOMMEND IF…
- You want to escape from reality
- Reading about child abuse is detrimental to you
I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS BOOK REVIEW IN SHORT
Rating: 5 out of 5.
I love memoirs. I weirdly love dramatic one, I find them so empowering and inspiring.
Reading this book felt very familiar to one of my favourite book “To Kill A Mockingbird“, Harper Lee’s amazing classic novel. Except that this time, it was the childhood of a black girl not only witnessing racism but facing it. The stories about the KKK seem unreal for me, a white girl who grew up in Europe in the XXI century, but they FELT real and it scared me.
I got completely immersed in Maya Angelou’s world, I could feel her story, her life, her emotions, her community, her family. And her world amazed me, as much as it terrified me.
Be emotionally prepared, I was not. It was such an intense book.
HOW I PICKED I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS
This memoir was everywhere on Bookstagram with lots of positive reviews and such a poetic name. That’s when I learn about Maya Angelou.
Besides her activism, she had real talent. She wrote seven autobiographies, as well as many poems and essays. But still, I hadn’t read any of her work… It was time to change this!
WHAT YOU CAN LEARN
The complete segregation in the US a few decades ago
When Maya Angelou explains that she had never seen a White person and even thought whites weren’t real, I understood all of it. Or at least I tried. How could I imagine leaving some neighbourhoods away from people and never knowing they exist.
When Maya Angelou got very bad tooth pain, I understood how big of a problem it was. No Black dentist was in their town and white dentists refused to cure Blacks, even one who had been lent money from her grandmother’s one. I couldn’t conceive how he left this young girl to suffer like hell without even an ounce of hesitation.
‘Annie, my policy is I’d rather stick my hand in a dog’s mouth than in a nigger’s‘
The education of some Black girls
I was disturbed by chats around me when I read about the period when Maya Angelou started learning everything about housekeeping. I was so inattentive, and more importantly very very naive, that I thought that this white woman was teaching her that so that she could find a husband, or in a better case be ’we’ll-educated’. But it wasn’t the case at all.
I was wrong about everything except for the fact that she was being taught housekeeping. In reality, it was the housekeeper of this white woman that was teaching her, so that she could do it herself for another mistress. I felt so numb! And it got worse when this mistress, who was not hers, renamed her at her convenience as she did before with her ’servant’.
The transformation of San Francisco’s Fillmore district
The historically black district, known as the “Harlem West”, was shared with Japanese-Americans until the latter were forced out during their racially-motivated 1942 internment of World War II. That’s when Southern Blacks arrived and took over the district.
In the early months of World War II, San Francisco’s Fillmore district, or the Western Addition, experienced a visible revolution. On the surface it appeared to be totally peaceful and almost a refutation of the term “revolution.” (…) The Japanese shops which sold products to Nisei customers were taken over by enterprising Negro businessmen, and in less than a year became permanent homes away from home for the newly arrived Southern Blacks. (…) As the Japanese disappeared, soundlessly and without protest, the Negroes entered with their loud jukeboxes, their just-released animosities and the relief of escape from Southern bonds. The Japanese area became San Francisco’s Harlem in a matter of months.
The roughness of Maya Angelou’s childhood
Her childhood was so eventful. From when she got sent away to her grandmother’s with her brother, to the sexual violence she went through, or even the month she spent in a junkyard with homeless children after the girlfriend of her father cut her out of jealousy. But still, she fought all of her life to prevent faith from drowning her.
For instance, before becoming San Francisco’s first Black streetcar conductor, the wiseness she proved after her first encounter with the secretary of the society struck me:
The miserable little encounter had nothing to do with me, the me of me, any more than it had to do with that silly clerk. The incident was a recurring dream, concocted years before by stupid whites and it eternally came back to haunt us all. The secretary and I were like Hamlet and Laertes in the final scene, where, because of harm done by one ancestor to another, we were bound to duel to the death. Also because the play must end somewhere. I went further than forgiving the clerk, I accepted her as a fellow victim of the same puppeteer.
WHAT DID I GET OUT OF THIS BOOK?
Written by Mathilde, creator of "Just Another Good Story".
Follow Mathilde on Instagram at @just.another.good.story