I picked up ‘I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings’ from a busy market in London, after spotting it on a stall jam-packed full of books. I love these types of stalls, and shops filled to the brim with every type of book you can imagine, but often find myself coming away empty handed after being overwhelmed by choice – not even knowing where to start looking. But on this occasion the name Maya Angelou, along with the pretty, pastel book cover (is anyone else taken in by the design of the cover?! It can completely sway my decision on whether to get a book!) caught my eye, and I decided to buy it.
I’ve read a few autobiographies, some completely inspirational (Malala Yousafzai), some hilariously funny (Miranda Hart) and some just drama filled and showbiz-y (Sharon Osbourne), and all of which I would actually recommend. However this was quite different to anything I’ve ever read before.
Now I’d heard of Maya Angelou, and being someone that loves seeing quotes on Instagram etc, had seen plenty of her inspirational lines. However in all honesty I didn’t really know much about her backstory or the impact she’d had in the world. So the first of her seven autobiographies, telling the story of her childhood until age 17, was a brilliant place to start!
The beautifully written story, although light hearted and humorous in parts, tells of racism, rape and homelessness from the eyes of a child. Set predominantly in the South of the United States, it illustrates the injustice and discrimination rife towards African Americans in the 1930s with some truly disturbing accounts. Yet it also tells of their pride, determination and strength, and the positivity that Maya could see in life – reading about the persistence she displayed in getting her first job was incredible. The book describes the complexity of Maya’s life, and the struggles and hardships, with complete openness and honesty, not always relaying the thoughts that you would expect, but those that were truly thought by the young girl.
Each person within the book felt like a character created for a novel – and whether that is down to the eloquent writing of the book, or that the stories of the people seemed almost too complex and unbelievable to be real, I’m not sure. And that is true for the events too, I could hardly believe that these things actually happened to or were seen by a child. Maya had seen and experienced in 17 years more than most people would in a lifetime.
I’m already excited to start the second book to find out about the next chapter of her life, although I still need to buy it! If you’re looking for a book to inspire you, as well as for one that draws you in and keeps you engrossed page after page, this is a book for you.
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