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65 of 66 people found the following review helpful
on 15 November 1999
This is an amazing book. It is not only a picture of southern Black life in 1930s America but a very personal account of a troubled and brave childhood. Maya Angelou can make you understand all the hardship she, and many like her, went through because of her colour, age and gender without ever indulging in self pitty. She writes with warm, flowing language rich with colour and texture. It made me angry at the world, it made me question why we don't tolerate and accept people. At the same time it made me happy and comforted in the knowledge that true acceptance lies within, not in the eyes of others. I loved it.
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136 of 140 people found the following review helpful
on 14 December 2004
I had to read this book for a school project and at first I thought that reading the autobiography of someone that I'd never heard of would be slightly pointless. However, as we began to read the book, I discovered that previous knowledge of the author was not necessary to read and relate to this fantastically written and deeply emotional story.
Although, at times, the story (and Angelou's life) is traumatic and stressful, much of it is based on the ongoing theme of how she (and the people around her) can overcome the prejudice, hatred and lack of power that is forced upon them by the white people in their community. Angelou describes how she defeats the whites in her own personal ways, such as managing to become the first black person to work on the San Francisco streetcars.
Many people would find inspiration in this story of a child who, growing up in unfortunate and tragic circumstances, manages to overcome the racism and loathing thrown at her by not only the whites, but the other characters, such as her mother's partner, Mr Freeman, and her father's girlfriend, Dolores.
I would recommend this book to anyone, but especially those interested in American history, or the history of racism.
Maya's story is one of success and triumph through some of the most difficult situations that life could through at you.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 14 January 2006
Maya Angelou's plight is just one of many tales of life as a young black woman growing up in the 1930s American South. Maya Angelou and her brother Bailey were abandoned by their parents and left in the care of their paternal grandmother, Momma, in a the small town of Stamps, Arkansas. When Maya and Bailey are eventually sent to California to be reunited with their mother, Maya, just eight years old, is brutally raped by her mother's boyfriend. Never recovering from this incident, she refuses to speak for five years, and later falls pregnant at the age of sixteen in an attempt to prove that she is not what she believes to be a "lesbian". "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings" is the harrowing tale of Angelou's struggle to, not only be accepted as black and female, but also to accept herself.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
`I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings' is the first part of Maya Angelou's six volume autobiography and looks at her life as a black child growing up in pre war America. She spends her time between the town of Stamps in the south and St Louis and California and is moved between her mother and grandmother for much of her childhood. Her grandmother gives her discipline, love, stoicism and devout belief in the lord and her mother gives her a belief in herself and a wild love of life. Maya has to deal with the various tribulations of growing up in a racist country during a time of cultural upheaval, as well as the terrible ordeal of being raped at the hands of one of her mothers boyfriends. She copes with all life throws at her with bravery and fortitude. This also focuses on the relationship she has with her brother, Bailey, and how they supported one another though the toughest times of their childhood. This book truly reads like a novel and Maya's style is beautiful and richly descriptive, so much so that at times you forget you are reading an autobiography. The world Maya paints for us can seem hostile and scary and yet you finish the book with a sense of hope and positivity. This is a profoundly moving book, that is exceptionally well written and is well worth a read at some point, even if you aren't a fan of biographies.

Feel free to check out my blog which can be found on my profile page.
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53 of 57 people found the following review helpful
on 20 January 2000
I was hesitant to read this book at first, I thought that it looked too long and would be boring to read. Now looking back, I know I was wrong. This autobiogaphical masterpiece is set in America in the 1930's. Maya Angelou starts the book with an excerpt from a play that she was in when she was very young. She uses humour to describe the way she feels at the time. Throughout the book, she uses lots of description to put the picture in the readers mind of her surroundings and feelings. This book tackles the racist issues that are still present in todays society. She tells us of how her father moved her away from her Grandmothers place, where she lived with her brother Bailey, and their family, to go and live with her mother. While she is over there , her mothers lover rapes her. As this is the tale of her own life, Maya Angelou has expressed the way she felt at this time incredibly well. The issues in her life at this time, are so serious it is unbelievable to think that she could possibly write a book about it , and tell the world her life story. Her troubled and exceedingly brave child hood really opened my eyes to how fortunate I am , not having to deal with such things, and I expect that anyone else who has read this book would feel the same . As Maya Angelou takes us through her life, we as active readers can expect to feel lots of different emotions. Laugh or cry, you will really get involved in her story. This book has made a big impression on me , and I will definitely be reading her other books, in hope that it will be as good as this one.
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43 of 46 people found the following review helpful
on 1 October 2000
I came across this book as part of my degree. I read the Synopsis and expected an interesting if not distressing experience. What I got was a thought provoking amazingly overwhelming experience. Angelous' vivid account of her childhood is breath taking. There is no sign of bitterness at the traumatic experiences she encountered. In fact one realises that the events of the book are what made her who she is today.
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37 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on 14 December 2004
This book is a wonderful display of all of the problems a young black girl can face during her life: the illogical hate of white people; male prejudice; and lack of black power. It is a clear display of the trials she faced and very important as she's managed to overcome the white system and was the first black woman to be the streetcar conductorette.
This book is very encourageing and inspiring in the way that she has overcome all of these obstacles and stil comes out strong. This is a very interesting read that i would recommend to anyone.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 13 January 2003
As a fan of Maya Angelou's poetry I was delighted to recieve this book for Christmas. I don't often read autobiographies but this read almost like fiction.
Maya (known as Marguerite at the time) lives in the Deep South during a time of extreme racial segregation. She then moves to California to live with her mother, where she is raped (aged 8) by her mother's lover. This is treated with less emotion then you would expect and, later in the book, she mentions it in a dry, almost humerous, tone. She is, throughout the book carted from her Grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas to her Mother in San Fransisco to her Father, in another part of California. This means that there are a lot of characters to keep track of, but as it is after all an autobiography, that is to be expected. The characters were very honestly drawn, in particular the Grandmother who was, at times, hilarious and at others amazingly moving.
The reason this book was an effort was, in part, the language. Sometimes very descriptive, almost sounding like her poetry, but at other times quite clinical. Also, for an English person the authentic speech can be hard to get your head around! Also, the books seemed to take a while to get going and I only found myself really really enjoying it towards the end. When she hits her teens things become far more interesting. In particular her first sexual experience which is such a non event it borders on comedy.
Maya Angelou deals with all sorts of 'issues' with sensitivity and honesty, and weaves an interesting tale of her remarkable life! I look forward to reading the rest of her autobiography.
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31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on 21 October 2006
I am currently studying A-Level at secondary school, and as part of an english coursework project, I chose to study this book.

The topic for my coursework piece was the cause and effect of prejudice. This autobiographical novel was quite fitting, as it focusses on Maya Angelou, a young girl who, along with her brother, was left in the care of her grandmother and uncle, by their own parents. In the backward town of Stamps, Maya grows up in the 'black' area of the town, and the contact with the white population is so scarce that the girl even wonders at times if they really exist, or if the horrific stories she hears about them are made up.

Maya doesn't fit in in the coloured community, but nor does she fit in within the white community. Out of touch with everything around her, she says;

"If growing up is painful for the Southern black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor blade that threatens the throat."

Throughout her life, Maya goes through some horrific experiences; attacked by her mother-in-law, abandoned in the middle of Mexico, rape, a nervous disposition, and overcoming racial prejudice, and one can actually witness her growth as a result of all of this, through Angelou's evocative language.

It was very well written, with some astute imagery, which came in very useful for my coursework piece.

I compared it with To Kill A Mockingbird, if you're interested.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 30 October 2003
I must admit I wasn’t looking forward to reading this book but necessity prevailed, as it was part of my literature class!
Maya gives a ‘fly on the wall’ experience throughout the book. Brilliantly written, it takes you on an emotional journey where you will experience anger that knots your stomach, sadness that burns your eyes and laughter that hurts your cheeks and bursts your rib cage [especially Chapter 6].
I will be ever indebted to my English tutor, Roy Allen, for choosing this book for our subject.
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