I jumped right into All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes, the fifth of Maya Angelou’s seven part autobiographical series and I thoroughly enjoyed it. In this installment, Angelou writes about her life as an African-American expatriate in Ghana between 1962 and 1965. I don’t know when I last read a book set in the 1960s. Between the racial tensions of the civil rights movement and the pain of watching her adult son Guy distance himself, this book contains no dusty or warped monochrome photograph. It’s also not just a sad and sorry report on ‘life in the in betweens’. In fact, this book might remind you of the more recent bestseller Americanah that I reviewed this summer on the blog. In more ways than one, All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes feels timely and relevant and challenging, yet full of humor.
Maya Angelou was a phenomenal writer, actor, poet and civil rights activist. She has an incredible way of inviting the reader to experience raw emotions in her quest for a place to call home. We feel like we are her confidant or maybe a best friend sharing in the joys and heartaches of motherhood and expat life.
In this book, Angelou leaves the US that enslaved her people to rediscover Ghana at age 33, where her skin color was almost too fair. She is irritated to be homesick for a country that has deeply rejected her and yet she can’t ever quite assimilate back to African culture.
“Homesickness was never mentioned in our crowd. Who would dare admit a longing for a white nation so full of hate that it drove it citizens of color to madness, to death or to exile? How to confess even to one’s ownself, that our eyes, historically customed to granite buildings, wide paved avenues, chromed cars, and brown, black, beige, pink and white-skinned people, often ached for those familiar sites?”
“If the heart of Africa remained elusive, my search for it had brought me closer to understanding myself and other human beings. The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned. It impels mighty ambitions and dangerous capers. We amass great fortunes at the cost of our souls, or risk our lives in drug dens from London’s Soho, to San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury. We shout in Baptist churches, wear yarmulkes and wigs and argue even the tiniest points in the Torah, or worship the sun and refuse to kill cows for the starving. Hoping that by doing these things, home will find us acceptable or failing that, that we will forget our awful yearning for it.”
History repeats itself, and this book set in the 1960s is a fantastic read for us Third Culture Kids.
Angelou plays with the notoriously stiff genre until it bends a bit like a novel with a collection of short stories. Throughout, vibrant little character driven vignettes allow this magical book to stand on its own. It’s a book that has successfully lured me into finally reading Angelou’s first and most famous autobiography I Know Why the Caged Birds Sing. If you’ve read that one, tell me how you liked it!
Feature image courtesy of Essence