May 06, 2002 12:00 PM

By Maya Angelou

It’s the sixth in a series of memoirs that began with her bestselling I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings in 1969, so perhaps Angelou, 74, has simply tired of her own life story. Whatever the reason, this slim volume, set between 1964 and 1968, feels hastily assembled.

The events described are hardly dull: After a sojourn in Ghana, Angelou returns to the U.S. to work with Malcolm X. When he is assassinated, she moves to Hawaii to sing in a nightclub, then hones her writing in L.A. and New York City. She is about to take a job with Martin Luther King Jr. when he, too, is murdered.

The book has its moments—the author’s friendship with writer James Baldwin, for instance, is warmly evoked—but Angelou’s subdued emotions deflate the era. Still, there is poetry here. Of an L.A. bungalow she longs to occupy, she writes, “Its absolute Tightness of place would spill over and the ragged edges of my life would become neat to match the house.” That’s the music of Caged Bird. (Random House, $22.95)

Bottom Line: Off-key

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