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I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS


(Image courtesy of Google images).

This memoir by Maya Angelou, documents her childhood and teenage years. It is a story full of love, and family relationships, heartbreak, disappointments, joy, accomplishments and trauma. It is written so beautifully, every word on the page invokes intense emotions; from humour to anger; despair to hope.

Angelou takes us through her upbringing in the southern United States, being raised by her grandmother, along with her brother. She shares how her race and skin colour shaped her sense of self, especially amid a culture of open racism and prejudice in the 1930s and onward. One such instance was her elementary graduation, when the white politician looking for votes insinuated that black graduates were only good for learning trades and not suited for higher learning. Angelou let this statement fuel her, because she knew that she was more than capable of more than what was being offered to her in her small rural community.

She also details her rather complicated relationship with her parents, especially her father who seemed almost indifferent to his children. Her relationship with her mother was positive for the most part, the most challenging was when Angelou was raped by her mother's boyfriend at the age of 8. To her mother's credit, she pressed charges against the man and there was a trial. The most interesting part about Angelou's recount of this incident, was the guilt she felt afterward, it was almost like she blamed herself for the rape, as if she were the cause. She would have conflicting emotions about it for years to come.

After returning to the south for another few years, she would eventually move to San Francisco to live with her mother, and it is here that their relationship flourishes. Angelou was able to finish high school, while hiding a pregnancy from her family. The pregnancy was a result of her desire to find out if she was a lesbian, because she had started to question her sexuality. She literally looked around her neighbourhood, and decided who was suitable for her experiment. This summed up Angelou's personality in a nutshell. When she decided she wanted to do something, she found a way to get it done.

And despite it all, she rose. A truly inspiring read.


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