Saturday, May 23, 2009
Book Review: All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes by Maya Angelou
This book is number five out of the six in her autobiographical series that begins with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. It begins immediately where the last novel left off: Maya and her son Guy have just moved from Egypt to Ghana (in West Africa) after the divorce from her second husband, an African diplomat of sorts, who is part of the fight to end Apartheid in South Africa. After only a few days in Ghana, Guy is in a serious car accident, which, results in a near full body cast and his neck broken in three places.
In this novel the events take place almost solely in Ghana, save a few small trips here and there, and ends when she decides to leave Africa for the United States, permanently. During her time in Ghana, in the 1960s and 1970s, we follow Maya as she works for a newspaper and experiences what it means to be "Black" in the overall context and not just under what she finds as the incorrect labels of either an "African" or "African American." She makes incredible distinctions on the similarities and differences between Africans and African Americans and, ultimately, decides that she is "Black" and that this title is the only appropriate one for her and others from America, Africa, or anywhere else around the world.
She, once again, discloses the incredible events she is involved in and the amazing people she has come to know as part of her life's journey. She comes into contact with higher members of African and Ghana's societies, as well as some astounding individuals from the U.S., including the president of Ghana, Muhammad Ali, and Malcolm X. During his trip to Africa, after he had made his pilgrimage to Mecca, Maya and her friends spend several weeks with Malcolm X.
Although the entire book deals with Maya's issues of identity and what it means for her to be a Black woman, the section where she is in contact with Malcolm X. is particularly revealing and incredibly interesting. It has astounded me throughout the series that a woman from the South, with only a high school education, born during racial segregation, has done so many amazing things and had personal contact with so many historical figures during her lifetime.
The book ends with a major decision for Maya: her time in Africa has come to an end, she has learned what she wanted to know, and it is time for her to return "home" and share what she has discovered. She makes a rather eerie trip to a village in East Ghana right before departing, which reveals to her, specifically, which tribe she is descended from. The next and final book in the series, A Song Flung up to Heaven, begins with her arrival home in the U.S.
And so it goes...