Caribbean 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 of 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?