A Small Place

Book Reviews / Monday, March 9th, 2015

IMG_1516Caribbean literature is something that I haven’t read very much of, but the first two Jamaica Kincaid novels I read were Annie John and Lucy and that was a little over two years ago.  I thoroughly enjoyed them.  So to continue my discovery of Kincaid I picked up A Small Place and devoured it in a few hours.

The first few pages surprised me because Kincaid immediately implements the reader in the story.  She is speaking directly to us.  Many people will feel uncomfortable and resent her accusations, but deep down inside we all know they are true.  Within this tiny  81 page book, Kincaid explains the destruction and profiteering of her home, Antigua.

The story starts with the ugliness of tourism.  This is what will make the reader uncomfortable as we can see ourselves fit into the types of descriptions made about tourists.  The beauty of Antigua, its beaches that aren’t all free to its citizens, the beautiful landscapes, marred by imposing 5 star hotels, are almost stage sets made so that tourism can progress.  The exotic is what doesn’t allow tourists to see things as they are for Antiguans.

Kincaid laments on the lack of decent education in Antigua and the refusal of all past government officials to rebuild the island’s library, which has been virtually out of commission since colonial times.  There hangs on the building a sign which says, “THIS BUILDING WAS DAMAGED IN THE EARTHQUAKE OF 1974. REPAIRS ARE PENDING.” When this book was published in 1988, the renovation had been pending already for ten years.  That library is a definite symbol of the status of the Antiguans and the island as a whole.  They are nothing more than damaged remnants of colonial rule.

Kincaid doesn’t believe that young Antiguans are as well-educated as in her day.  She was educated under British rule with the classics (read Annie John for that understanding).  She realizes that the one thing the youth have in common with her generation is their capacity to admire the people who enslaved them. i.e. The British in her time and the Americans for the young Antiguans.

I could go on and explain to you the other very serious problems on the beautiful island of Antigua but I urge you to read it for yourself.  It is absolutely mind-blowing!  If and when you do, don’t judge the book on how you feel while reading it, but concentrate on all the grave issues facing these people.  I read many reviews on Goodreads saying that Kincaid was angry and why didn’t she do something to fix the library and she obviously doesn’t care because she lives in Vermont.  I felt like the person who wrote that didn’t understand the book.  Well if I were Kincaid I’d be angry too, not that I appreciate at all that angry black woman analogy.  All of the problems she details in this little book aren’t easy to come up against, since everybody is corrupt in one way or another and as for the locals they are just trying to survive.  Endemic corruption is almost impossible to fight against.  Here’s a quote from A Small Place that explains things very well, “In a small place, people cultivate small events.  The small event is isolated, blown up, turned over and over, and then absorbed into the everyday, so that at any moment it can and will roll off the inhabitants of the small place’s tongues.  For the people in a small place, every event is a domestic event; the people in a small place cannot see themselves in a larger picture, they cannot see that they might be part ofKENNETH NOLAND Jamaica Kincaid: unique literary journey. a chain of something, anything.” (A Small Place, p. 52)

Jamaica Kincaid was born in St. John’s, Antigua in 1949,  She now lives in Vermont and teaches at a university in California.  She is a writer, a gardener, and gardening writer.  Her work is qualified as autobiographical and is criticized as being angry.  Her books contain the following themes: post colonialism, neocolonialism, British/American imperialism, adolescence, mother-daughter relationships, racism, sexuality, class, and power.  She has received many literary awards including being shortlisted for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction for At the Bottom of the River in 1984 and The Autobiography of My Mother in 1997.  As for me I hope to pick up the controversial See Now Then at some point this year.  What do you think of Ms. Kincaid’s work?  Have you read any of Ms. Kincaid’s work?  If so what was your favorite?

21 Replies to “A Small Place”

  1. So far my favorite is My Brother or maybe Lucy…i should reread them because it’s been a long time since since last i entered Jamaica Kincaid ‘world’ but i got 3 of her books on my TBR so i’ll add a small place just in case…

    1. I hope to get to See Now Then which is her latest released 2013, where she was harshly criticized. I’d also like to check out The Autobiography of My Mother. I still remain an unwavering fan of Annie John. Happy reading Marina…

  2. Wonderful review Didi, I have this book on my shelf and also a collection of her short stories At the Bottom of the River. which ironically has a quote from Anne Tyler(whose book I am currently reading) written on it. Seems like I should follow on from Tyler with Kincaid for sure!

    1. Kincaid is a good writer and in this one she has a lot to say! I found it a very enlightening reading experience for me and am anxious to continue on with See Now Then. However, I’reenrolled in an online writing course with Faber Academy. It’s called Getting Started: Writing Fiction. I start on Monday and I’m really excited but a bit nervous. So will be a little less online for the next nine weeks….Wish me luck. 🙂

      1. Oh , that’s great Deidre, all the best with the course, it’ll be a wonderful learning experience for sure. A friend convinced me to enrol with her in the University of Iowa ‘How Writers Write Poetry’ course which starts March 23, writing poetry should help the writing process guess! 🙂 It’s free anyway, so why not.

        I look forward to hearing more about your writing and am glad we are both doing something at the same time, wish we could have a writing group together!

        1. Wow like minds think alike! Maybe we could get some people together for a “writing weekend”. That could be fun! I’ll miss reading because at the moment I’m reading loads and I am already 5 books ahead. Will probably continue to read but much slower or maybe just listen to audiobooks, not sure. I’ll find it hard to quit reading for so long. do you read while you’re writing?

          1. When I was writing the novel I didn’t read, because even when I wasn’t writing I needed the thinking space to allow the story to continue to evolve and I didn’t want to feed the inner critic by reading anything that would undermine my confidence.

            What I hadn’t counted on was the after effect, do not read anything by a writer you greatly admire after writing a novel, oh I felt sick that I had even dared to put words on a page in the face of great writing. Next time I’ll go for a lo brow mystery or something whose reading effect is to make me feel like an equal rather than inferior.

            So choose wisely would be my main advice. I did read a lot of books about writing during that period, just no fiction or stories, read things that contribute to your learning and experience, that will help you achieve your goal.

          2. Thanks for that advice! I’ll definitely keep that in mind. I have plans to finish of the books I’m reading at the moment at least try and there is some reading to do for the course so I think I’ll just stick with that for the moment. Thanks again Claire for the advice! ??

      2. Unfortunately I really relate to your self-doubts related to writing and it makes me wonder if this is unique to writers, or do other folks feel the same about their creative fields or aspiration?

        1. Well Leslie I’m not really sure. All I know is I’ve not written enough in my life, but Lord knows I’ve read loads. Unfortunately it took me tearing my Achilles’ tendon to start writing regularly on my blog and to participate in NaNoWriMo for the first time. People have always told me you should write a book. I just want this course to put me on the right track and make look at writing a little differently than I do usually. I’m the only American I think but I’m excited to get started. May come on here with some updates on how I’m doing. It’s possible though that all writers doubt their ability at some point, but I remember reading in Mslexia magazine, I think it was, “One has to own being a writer whether they are getting paid for it or not.” Another thing I remember someone saying is “you have to write to be writer.” Ain’t that the truth?! So I’ll have my pencils and favorite pens lined up with a bunch of empty notebooks and my MacBook juiced up and ready to go. Thanks for the well wishes and encouragement! I really appreciate it! ?

  3. Picked up the autobiography of my mother at an english book sale, what a find!!! What a brilliant book Didi, you M U S T read it! I thought it was incredible, I’d already dusted off the two books I had on the shelf after reading your review here, but something abut this novel just grabbed me and I couldn’t put it down. I highlighted so many passages.

    But if you are writing, put it aside, just make sure you get a copy! Hope its all going well, my poetry thing got postponed so haven’t started yet. Not complaining, a bit overwhelmed with the million other things at present!

    1. I’m not surprised. The Autobiography of My Mother is on my list. I’m still getting in some reading so who knows maybe I’ll get to it soon. Glad to hear you liked it though. 🙂

  4. Great review! You managed to put into words what I tried to in my review: that discomfort at being accused, in fact of being compelled to accuse yourself. Have you read anything by Marie Elena-John? Another interesting Antiguan writer.

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