For the first time since I began reviewing books I find myself in the truly bizarre situation of not knowing whether I loved or hated a book, the novel in question being Maya Angelou’s autobiography “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”. Whilst I loved certain parts of the book, I felt others were vulgar, unnecessary and more than a little excessive. Considering this, I am finding it extremely hard to form an opinion on this book. From one point of view it took me rather a long time to plough throughout its relatively short 300 pages. From the other, Angelou was the perfect candidate to write an autobiography of her childhood as her early life was nothing if not eventful.
Like the book itself, I had mixed feelings toward the characters. Angelou both interested me and bored me. At times her family were the focus of the novel however for large periods of time they were completely ignored which baffled me. The way in which the characters were treated irritated me at times; Angelou’s well meaning mother was underappreciated whilst the man who raped her was practically shown sympathy. I would say that out of her direct family the novelist showed her often absent father in the best light as she recounted amusing time spent in his company.
From a technical point of view, I struggle to fault the way the book is written however I didn’t find the style to be particularly unique or interesting. Angelou appeared to favour heavy uses of vivid but unnecessary description that had no real relevance to the story she was telling.
As a whole I am struggling to form a coherent opinion on the book. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing about Angelou’s brief spell as the first black streetcar conductorette and was interested by tales of her relationship with her father but found tales of her brother’s early relationships with girls, her personal feelings towards her rapist and her conflict over her sexuality simply vulgar. I also felt that these stories had no real relevance to the book and were simply a distraction from the real story. Her tendancy to go off on frequent tangents suggests to me that Angelou’s story would work better as a biography written by someone else then an autobiography. Having said that, the author certainly led an interesting life and I wouldn’t rule out reading the other volumes of her life story in the future. These reasons are why I have struggled to come to a conclusion about this book.
“All knowledge is spendable currency, depending on the market.”