Top positive review
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Classic Maya - a beautiful read
on 5 July 2002
Maya Angelou began her autobiographical series with 'I know why the caged bird sings', and now ends it with, this, the sixth and very last instalment, which takes us on a journey from the point that she returned from Africa to the US to work with Malcolm X. Poignantly it brings us right up to the point where she begins to write 'I know why the caged bird sings'.
In the novel we see Maya reunited with her mother and brother, before being told the news that the man she had come to work with - Malcolm X - had been assassinated. She is devastated, but tries to put her life back together - starring on stage in local theatres and conducting Market research on black women. She discovers that many of the people she surveys in Watts, an area of Los Angeles are unhappy with their lives - having to cope with very little income because their husbands are not working and having to raise their children. This desperation is captured perfectly with Maya's wonderful writing style -"Without steady salaries, the people could not envision tomorrows." Soon riots break out in Watts, which she is a first hand witness to.
In 1968 Maya travels to New York to meet Martin Luther King Jnr., who had asked her to be his coordinator and to travel the country to pass on a message of non-violent protest to black preachers. Before she is able to make this journey, she is confronted by the terrible news of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jnr. This time, unlike the period after the death of Malcolm X, Maya totally withdraws from the world, finding it impossible to cope with the tragic death. But James Baldwin, a black and openly gay preacher is able to remove her from her isolation and invite her to a dinner party, where the idea for writing the novel 'I know why the caged bird sings' is born.
While her first book concentrated on the childhood horror that Maya experienced including the divorce of her parents and being raped by her mother's boyfriend, this final instalment concentrates on a different time of turmoil in Maya's life with the deaths of two people she was fond of and looked up to, but also plants the seeds for hope, when she begins writing the first novel of the series, which went on to become a critically acclaimed bestseller.
Although, I don't imagine that this will be anyway near as popular as 'I know why the caged bird songs', it still contains the wonderful and beautiful prose that she was famed for, "Some words are spoken and not heard because the ears cannot hear them." With this descriptive writing she actually TAKES us there, and relives her torture in such detail that it is easy to imagine that it is a work of fiction, rather than the completely true and autobiographical account that it is. If you were lucky enough to have seen Maya reading extracts from the book at the Hay-On-Wye festival you'll know that she is not just a talented and inspiring writer, but also a wonderful performer, bringing aspects of her book to life with her beautiful voice and expressions.
If you've read any of Angelou's other books then reading this will probably be like chatting to an old friend, but if this is your first time reading her books then you'll still be pleasantly surprised by this, the final memoir in her autobiographical collection which also gives a summary of her life thus far. Something that might have improved the book would be the inclusion of something at the end about her writing her novels, so the reader is given an idea of one of Maya's big successes, to end the collection on a joyous note. It is also incredibly short with large fonts and big margins so I finished it within a few hours. But these are minor quibbles when you realise how beautiful and inspirational this novel is. A heart-warming, engaging and excellent summer read, a celebration of a phenomenal and brilliant woman.
I recommend this to anyone. Please buy it, read it and enjoy it.