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A Small Place

by Jamaica Kincaid

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9542315,229 (3.69)28
A brilliant look at colonialism and its effects in Antigua--by the author ofAnnie John "If you go to Antigua as a tourist, this is what you will see. If you come by aeroplane, you will land at the V. C. Bird International Airport. Vere Cornwall (V. C.) Bird is the Prime Minister of Antigua. You may be the sort of tourist who would wonder why a Prime Minister would want an airport named after him--why not a school, why not a hospital, why not some great public monument. You are a tourist and you have not yet seen . . ." So begins Jamaica Kincaid's expansive essay, which shows us what we have not yet seen of the ten-by-twelve-mile island in the British West Indies where she grew up. Lyrical, sardonic, and forthright by turns, in a Swiftian mode,A Small Place cannot help but amplify our vision of one small place and all that it signifies.… (more)



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Showing 1-5 of 22 (next | show all)
In this memoir/essay, Kincaid describes Antigua of the early-mid 1980s, in all of its racism and corruption. This book is very angry--I listened on audio on Hoopla, and the narrator helped with that, but that is also how it is written.

Kincaid discusses politicians who had automatic green cards in the US, millions of dollars that disappear, foreigners (Syrian and Lebanese) who invest in businesses that the government officials funnel all government money to, and white (American and European) tourists. While millions of dollars are spent on fancy car dealerships that sell cars to the government, the library damaged in a natural disaster remains closed due to lack of funds for repair. Allocated money disappears while ministers of middling wages own huge homes.

I know little about the history of Antigua specifically, and this was a very interesting read. It would go well with a more academic (and less sarcastic/sardonic) history of the island. ( )
  Dreesie | Jun 22, 2020 |
The book is one of the most angry I've ever read, but perhaps that is what makes it a quick, unforgettable read. I would agree that the anger got in the way of a real argument, however. ( )
  peterbmacd | May 16, 2020 |
Kincaid lays down a scathing, humbling denouncement of the racism, corruption and incompetence of Antigua in the early 80's. The book is provocative, likely making a number of people within the Antigua political structure, who get called out by name and deed for their cronyism, uncomfortable when it was published. While it is effective, there are two issues I take with it.

First is a sort of fatalism related to the absurdity of the situation (reminiscent of Candide, although this isn't meant as a farce), even though the intention is clearly the opposite (hope!). Second is the writing off of entire groups of generalized others (All British are bad. All tourists and tourism is narcissistic, pathetic and self-indulgent. Etc.)

It ends with slightly incongruous, upbeat, positive chapter. That chapter is beautiful, yet feels like an afterthought or attempt to make pleasant and instill positive sentiment on parting.

Overall, definitely thought provoking and worth a read. More like 3.5, but I'm going to round up. ( )
  reg_lt | Feb 7, 2020 |
An initial thought: Jamaica Kincaid is writing, as the blurb from Salman Rushdie alerts us, a “jeremiad.” She first expresses her discontent by scorning modern-day tourists in her native Antigua. She illustrates her feelings not by documenting behavior but by attributing behavior, a curious thing, as it duplicates the attitude, though not the damaging impact, of racial attributions made by the tourists’ ancestors.

But no. No. That’s not it. I mean, she is upset by the tourists but no, that’s not really the problem, this thing about how out-of-place the tourists are in this “small place” they treat as their own place. And while Antigua is a small place, and is her subject, the physical smallness is not her subject either.

The problem Kincaid is addressing is the smallness of place most Antiguans have in Antigua, the consciousness of that small place they have in comparison to the Europeans and North Americans there, in the small place that supposedly is their own.

To her mind and heart the situation is one from which she sees no justice issue, not from the foreign investors, the tourist economy, or her fellow citizens in government acting to procure riches and status for themselves alone. Kincaid is outraged, aghast, contemptuous, caustic, strident, vehement, accusatory. She repeatedly is witness to what is comic but what good is comedy without the reward brought by laughter and smiles? Bitter comedy it is.

She personalizes this in a gentler way, a way a book lover will appreciate, by expressing her love for a library:
“But if you saw the old library, situated as it was, in a big, old wooden building painted a shade of yellow that is beautiful to people like me, with its wide veranda, its big, always open windows, its rows and rows of shelves filled with books, its beautiful wooden tables and chairs for sitting and reading, if you could hear the sound of its quietness (for the quiet in this library was a sound in itself), the smell of the sea (which was a stone’s throw away), the heat of the sun (no building could protect us from that), the beauty of us sitting there like communicants at an altar, taking in, again and again, the fairy tale of how we met you, your right to do the things you did, how beautiful you were, are, and always will be; if you could see all of that in just one glimpse, you would see why my heart would break at the dung heap that now passes for a library in Antigua. The place where the library is now, above the dry-goods store, in the old run-down concrete building, is too small to hold all the books from the old building, and so most of the books, instead of being on their nice shelves, resting comfortably, waiting to acquaint me with you in all your greatness, are in cardboard boxes in a room, gathering mildew, or dust, or ruin.”

Imagine, then, will you, any one thing you ought to love best, would love best if it were possible. Further, imagine losing faith it can become possible. How would you feel? Read A Small Place with that thought dwelling in your imagination. Consider how impoverishing it would be to feel differently than does Jamaica Kincaid. ( )
  dypaloh | Nov 11, 2018 |
I've heard of Jamaica Kincaid for years, but I've never read her work until now. Of the titles she's written, A Small Place is not one I recall ever having been mentioned. It's a short book. It's non-fiction. It's brutally honest. And for these reasons, I think it's often skipped over. Regardless of how great her fiction is or is not, skipping this brief history of Antigua is a mistake.

A Small Place is a powerful exploration of Kincaid's home, the island of Antigua. Colonized by the British in 1632, and left in the hands of tourists and a corrupt government, Antigua is portrayed as a land of damaged beauty. A Small Place is an indictment against colonialism, capitalism, complacency, and so much more. Kincaid spares no punches; her lens is wide, but exact. Her outrage and rhythmic exploration of the island make this impassioned essay searing with pride and indignation. A Small Place is a Caribbean answer to Baldwin's The Fire Next Time; Kincaid's prose rises with a voice that rivals Baldwin's. While Baldwin offered hope and solutions, however, Kincaid largely focuses on the sources of the many problems.

I don't know what to expect from Kincaid's more popular fiction, but if it's anything like this, it will be incredibly poetic and powerful. I look forward to it. ( )
  chrisblocker | Aug 22, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 22 (next | show all)
There are places worth revisiting not to relive joyful memories, but to allow for the catharsis that comes from exposing festering wounds so that cleansing, and perhaps healing, can begin. This is the kind of journey Jamaica Kincaid allows us to witness. In this essay, orginally published in 1988 and recently released in paperback, she takes us behind idyllic countrysides and sun-kissed beaches to examine the underbelly of life in Antigua, the tiny island in the West Indies where she grew up. It is a place she lovingly describes as "too beautiful." But Antigua also elicits bitter memories for our tour guide, who makes it clear she has an ax to grind in this short but powerful billyclub of a book.
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For Brian and Veronica Dyde; for my brothers Joseph, Dalma, and Devin Drew with love; and for William Shawn (again) with gratitude and love
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If you go to Antigua as a tourist, this is what you will see.
As your plane descends to land, you might say, What a beautiful island Antigua is—more beautiful than any of the other islands you have seen, and they were beautiful, in their way, but they were much too green, much too lush with vegetation, which indicated to you, the tourist, that they got quite a bit of rainfall, and rain is the very thing that you, just now, do not want, for you are thinking of the hard and cold and dark and long days you spent working in North America (or, worse, Europe), earning some money so that you could stay in this place (Antigua) where the sun always shines and where the climate is deliciously hot and dry for the four to ten days you are going to be staying there; and since you are on your holiday, since you are a tourist, the thought of what it might be like for someone who had to live day in, day out in a place that suffers constantly from drought, and so has to watch carefully every drop of fresh water used (while at the same time surrounded by a sea and an ocean—the Caribbean Sea on one side, the Atlantic Ocean on the other), must never cross your mind.
In the Antigua that I knew, we lived on a street named after an English maritime criminal, Horatio Nelson, and all the other streets around us were named after some other English maritime criminals. There was Rodney Street, there was Hood Street, there was Hawkins Street, and there was Drake Street.
And then there was another place, called the Mill Reef Club. It was built by some people from North America who wanted to live in Antigua and spend their holidays in Antigua but who seemed not to like Antiguans (black people) at all, for the Mill Reef Club declared itself completely private, and the only Antiguans (black people) allowed to go there were servants.
I attended a school named after a Princess of England. Years and years later, I read somewhere that this Princess made her tour of the West Indies (which included Antigua, and on that tour she dedicated my school) because she had fallen in love with a married man, and since she was not allowed to marry a divorced man she was sent to visit us to get over her affair with him. How well I remember that all of Antigua turned out to see this Princess person, how every building that she would enter was repaired and painted so that it looked brand-new, how every beach that she would sun herself on had to look as if no one had ever sunned there before (I wonder now what they did about the poor sea? I mean, can a sea be made to look brand-new?), and how everybody she met was the best Antiguan body to meet, and no one told us that this person we were putting ourselves out for on such a big scale, this person we were getting worked up about as if she were God Himself, was in our midst because of something so common, so everyday: her life was not working out the way she had hoped, her life was one big mess.
(The people at the Mill Reef Club love the old Antigua. I love the old Antigua. Without question, we don't have the same old Antigua in mind.)
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