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The autobiography of my mother by Jamaica…
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The autobiography of my mother (1995)

by Jamaica Kincaid

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A possibly autobiographical account of a young girl's survival against impossible odds in a static colonial backwater. The language here is crisp and precise: Kincaid is one of those writers that reminds you that writing, like all art, really, is a series of choices: her sentences don't run on as much as they unfold themselves as she plays with opposition, comparison, and paradox. The narrator -- who may or may not be the author -- comes across as a hard, inexhaustible node of determination. This comes as a bit of a surprise, since many books that get tagged as postcolonial literature feature characters caught between two or more cultural traditions and often incapacitated or paralyzed by the contradictions that this experience implies. That's not the case here, although the narrator makes many sharp observations about how Dominica's troubled and varied history has affected those around her, the book has an incongruous Horatio Alger quality that I think that the author herself more or less acknowledges. Of course, it's hard to believe that anyone that lacked an almost superhuman will could make it through the scenes of poverty and degradation depicted in "Autobiography," never mind write about them. Kincaid argues, I think, that this sort of willfulness is a precondition for writing, a necessary toughness.

This doesn't mean that this book's narrator is particularly likeable, or that the book is particularly enjoyable. Kincaid wrestles with a lot of painful history here, but isn't aiming at any particular reconciliation. Her depiction of the Caribbean is, like V.S. Naipaul's, spare and pitiless, and, while Kincaid's description of the act of physical love are marvelously vivid,, there isn't a lot of love or fellow feeling to go around here. A lot of the book's social and personal chasms remain unbridged. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is the sort of book that's more or less guaranteed to make a lot of well-intentioned white people feel decidedly uncomfortable. This, of course might be part of it's concept, and that's fine. But potential readers should keep in mind that it's probably easier to admire "Autobiography of my Mother" than it is to enjoy it. ( )
  TheAmpersand | May 31, 2014 |
i really, really hated this book. i feel badly saying that and thinking that and there was a point a little over halfway through when i thought maybe i wasn't hating it anymore, but it was so fleeting. i hate the writing, the characters - especially the main character - the "plot," if there is one. i was looking forward to this read as my first kincaid and was really assuming i'd enjoy it. what an enormous disappointment.

i could pull an example from every page (and probably even every paragraph) of writing that bothered me, but i'll only give two:

"The road stretched out ahead of me and vanished around a bend; we kept walking toward this bend and then we came to the bend and the bend gave way to more of the same road and then another bend."

"Since I do not matter, I do not long to matter, but I matter anyway."

i seriously can't stand this book. ( )
  elisa.saphier | Feb 1, 2014 |
Having enjoyed this book when I was in high school, and having enjoyed my reread of Annie John by the same author, I was eager to read this one again. But I had a hard time remaining interested in it this time around. Part of the problem was that Kincaid recycled a lot of what was in Annie John and, having just read Annie John, I didn't want to read the same thing all over again. Furthermore, the main character just irked me ... as the book went on, I felt more and more alienated from her and cared less and less about the fact that her mother died in childbirth. It's funny that Annie John had the opposite effect on me. I have absolutely nothing in common with the main character in either novel, but, in Annie John, Kincaid made me care about the welfare of Annie. Xuela, on the other hand ... I just wanted to get through this and move on to another book. ( )
  purplehena | Mar 31, 2013 |
Well-written, but not particularly engrossing. There's not much of a plot here--if I had to describe it, it's sort of a coming-of-age book, but it goes beyond that, well into adulthood. It's mainly how never knowing her mother (who died when the narrator was born) shaped her whole life, made her who she became. It's not a bad book, or even mediocre; the writing is compelling, even if the story isn't. ( )
  librarybrandy | Mar 29, 2013 |
The West Indian narrator vents her bitterness at the unhappy life fate dealt her--mother died in childbirth, father ignored her, stepmother tried to kill her, at school she had an abortion. Finally, she married a white doctor, but it was impossible for her to love him because he was a colonialist. She draws parallels with the despair of her country--Dominica--attributing it to the legacy of slavery. ( )
1 vote | BiblioKleptoManiac | Jul 3, 2007 |
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My mother died at the moment I was born, and so for my whole life there was nothing standing beween myself and eternity; at my back was always a bleak, black wind.
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This book is a work of fiction. If you have tagged it as a biography or non-fiction, please read the title page of your book where it states that this book is a work of fiction.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0452274664, Paperback)

"My mother died at the moment I was born, and so for my whole life there was nothing standing between myself and eternity," writes Jamaica Kincaid in this disturbing, compelling novel set on the island of Dominica. Born to a doomed Carib woman and a Scottish African policeman of increasing swagger and wealth, narrator Xuela spends a lifetime unanchored by family or love. She disdains the web of small and big lies that link others, allowing only pungent, earthy sensuality--a mix of blood and dirt and sex--to move her. Even answering its siren call, though, Xuela never loses sight of the sharp loss that launched her into the world and the doors through which she will take her leave.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:29:32 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

A seventy-year-old West Indian woman looks back over the course of her life and examines the relationships that have given meaning to her existence

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