In a continued effort to read novels that have appeared on multiple suggested reading lists, I picked up Maya Angelou's The Heart of a Woman. I've read her first, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, a long time ago and always wanted to pick up and keep reading. This book jumps ahead a bit in years, but does pick up her story again, which is pretty interesting.
Maya Angelou has fascinated, moved, and inspired countless readers with the first three volumes of her autobiography, one of the most remarkable personal narratives of our age. Now, in her fourth volume, The Heart of a Woman, her turbulent life breaks wide open with joy as the singer-dancer enters the razzle-dazzle of fabulous New York City. There, at the Harlem Writers Guild, her love for writing blazes anew.
Her compassion and commitment lead her to respond to the fiery times by becoming the northern coordinator of Martin Luther King's history-making quest. A tempestuous, earthy woman, she promises her heart to one man only to have it stolen, virtually on her wedding day, by a passionate African freedom fighter.
Filled with unforgettable vignettes of famous characters, from Billie Holiday to Malcolm X, The Heart of a Woman sings with Maya Angelou's eloquent prose her fondest dreams, deepest disappointments, and her dramatically tender relationship with her rebellious teenage son. Vulnerable, humorous, tough, Maya speaks with an intimate awareness of the heart within all of us."
Review: Covering a later period in Angelou's life, her young son is now a teenager and Angelou has moved to New York City. I was stunned by the wide range of experiences she had, from rubbing shoulders with greats like James Baldwin to uprooting her life and family to live in Africa. To go along with her various life experiences, Angelou also had such a range of talents and abilities that she seemed almost unreal or superhuman! It seems like her writing was not her primary talent, but more of the outlet for all else she had done with her life. Her words hold weight and power and carry her readers through the experiences of her life and how they shaped her.
Angelou is an obvious activist, focusing her time and energy on the rights of blacks in America. Her role in plays and politics, music and education were all aimed at helping open the eyes of the oppressor and of freeing the enslaved. Ironically, I thought her own relationships with men to be the one area that felt contradictory to many of her points. Although she later married an African diplomat who worked for the United Nations, even he had a way of treating Angelou that created mistrust and chaos. The points she slips into her narrative about the treatment of men, and in his case the treatment of African men to their wives, is an interesting moment of weakness on her part. We see her as so strong and yet she has these difficult relationships with men that make her more human that we at first might consider. Thankfully she pulls her life together, if nothing more than for her growing son's sake.
Whether she talks of politics, art, or relationships, there is that distinctive eloquence to her writing that makes it interesting to read. There were moments in her story that felt slow and drawn out, but she experienced so much in this one book that it was intriguing to consider. In this way, her writing is engaging. The Heart of a Woman is a stand alone novel, but definitely feels like a mere chunk of a life's story. In the case of Maya Angelou, that is one amazingly varied life story!
*FTC Disclosure: This review was based on a library copy of the novel.