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Format: ARC from publisher, 197 pgs.
Published: April 2nd, 2013 by Random House
Genre: Non-fiction, Autobiography
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The story of Maya Angelou’s extraordinary life has been chronicled in her multiple bestselling autobiographies. But now, at last, the legendary author shares the deepest personal story of her life: her relationship with her mother.
For the first time, Angelou reveals the triumphs and struggles of being the daughter of Vivian Baxter, an indomitable spirit whose petite size belied her larger-than-life presence—a presence absent during much of Angelou’s early life. When her marriage began to crumble, Vivian famously sent three-year-old Maya and her older brother away from their California home to live with their grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas. The subsequent feelings of abandonment stayed with Angelou for years, but their reunion, a decade later, began a story that has never before been told. In Mom & Me & Mom, Angelou dramatizes her years reconciling with the mother she preferred to simply call “Lady,” revealing the profound moments that shifted the balance of love and respect between them.
Delving into one of her life’s most rich, rewarding, and fraught relationships, Mom & Me & Mom explores the healing and love that evolved between the two women over the course of their lives, the love that fostered Maya Angelou’s rise from immeasurable depths to reach impossible heights. -Goodreads
“Love heals. Heals and liberates.” (prologue, x)
Maya Angelou ventures down memory lane to show how her mother, Lady Vivian Baxter, shaped and molded her life from young adulthood and onward. Lady Baxter showed Maya how to stay tough and determined by exhibiting her own toughness and determination, showing that nobody can stop you if you set your mind towards achieving something.
Broken into two sections, Mom & Me discusses the life Maya endured while living under her mother’s roof and getting to know her; then there’s “Me & Mom” which shows how Maya lived independently, yet reliant of her mother. The evolution of her calling Vivian Baxter ‘Lady’, to ‘Mother’, to ‘Mom’ shows the leaps and developments in their relationship. Whenever Maya needed advice, her mother was there for her, whenever she needed a shoulder to cry on, her mother was there for her, and whenever she needed encouragement and love, her mother was there for her. There’s no doubt, from the content of Mom & Me & Mom, that Lady Baxter was one of the largest influences in Maya’s life.
“She liberated me from a society that would have had me think of myself as the lower of the low. She liberated me to life.” (72)
A particular part in the story I found very insightful was her marriage and divorce from her husband, Tosh Angelos. In her marriage she became unhappy; she snuck out to church because her husband was an atheist, she stopped attending dance class because her husband thought it was a waste of time, and she stopped going certain places & hanging out with friends all because her husband was jealous. Maya Angelou sought out her mother’s advice all throughout her marriage (even though her mother didn’t like her marrying a poor white man,) and Lady Baxter always comforted her to hopefully follow her heart. Maya finally followed her heart and after an amicable divorce, she picked up her friends, favorite places and dancing lessons again. Because she picked her dancing lessons, this led to successful stripless strip-tease performances, which led to singing at the Purple Onion, which led to her joining an operatic society and performing Porgy and Bess all over europe. This in turn led to Maya finding her love in writing lyrics, screenplays and poetry. Again, her mother’s understanding and love, liberated her, and she grew.
“I was to learn that whenever she had anything important to say, she would first ask us to sit down, and then say, ‘I have something to say.’” (30)
I loved both the raw intensity, and the poetic comfort that Maya invokes in the writing of this autobiographical section of her life. She knows she’s been through some violent and depressing periods in her life, but she writes it without shame or holding back. She wants people to feel emotionally connected to the events in the book, whether they are rough times, or the periods of pure elation. This helps us understand her thought processes, and the decisions she made, and also why she sought out the advice of her mother, who always had something to say.
“‘You are going far in this world, baby, because you dare to risk everything. That’s what you have to do. You are prepared to do the best you know to do. And if you don’t succeed, you also know all you have to do is try it again.’” (120)
Mom & Me & Mom shows how Maya learned to never stop trying, and how to prove people wrong when they say you can’t do this or that. Her mother, was a civil rights advocate through her achievements and ambitions and she taught Maya the importance in doing the same. This book goes through different trials and triumphs in which Maya learned from Lady Vivian Baxter and grew to genuinely love her not just in the respectful way of a Lady, but in the comforting way of a Mother. From Maya’s highs to her lows, Lady Baxter was there for her, and albeit she has made many mistakes herself, she planted a seed in Maya that grew to instill confidence, morality and love in her little girl.
“Imagine I might really become somebody. Someday.” (79)
“‘Don’t do anything you think is wrong. Just do what you think is right, and then be ready to back it up even with your life.’” (138)
“‘Sometimes people put people on pedestals so they can see them more clearly and knock them off more easily.’” (160)
Vivian to Maya:
“‘Baby, I’ve been thinking and now I am sure. You are the greatest woman I’ve ever met.’” (78)
Galley provided by Random House Publishing Group via LibraryThing
*Quotes are from uncorrected advanced galleys and may change before going to press. Please refer to the final printed book for official quotes.