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A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid

A Small Place

by Jamaica Kincaid

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If you're thinking of going to Antigua on vacation, you probably shouldn't read this before you go. You might end up canceling your reservations. This isn't a sentimental reminiscence about the author's native country. It's full of anger at tourists, at the former colonial government, and at corruption in the post-colonial government. I don't know what Kincaid intended to accomplish with this extended essay, but it seems like she means to discourage North American and European tourists from visiting, and she would rather have Antigua left to the Antiguans. Since Antigua's economy is based largely on tourism, I'm not sure how discouraging visitors will improve things. There are enough interesting facts interspersed with the rants to make me feel like I gained something from reading it. ( )
  cbl_tn | Nov 30, 2013 |
A personal tour of Antigua, the country of origin for the author, that is brilliant in it's language and power to create an image with words that will stay with you always. ( )
  lindap69 | Apr 5, 2013 |
A stunning "tour" of past and present Antigua that reveals the hidden ugliness that tourists do not see. Fierce and angry but not without tiny glimpses of humor and beauty.

Complete review at Shelf Love. ( )
  teresakayep | May 15, 2011 |
Title: A Small Place

Author: Jamaica Kincaid

Stars: 3 & 1/2 (out of 5)

Format: Paperback

# of Pages/Words: 81/~20,200

Where It Came From: I purchased this novella from Amazon several months ago. It was a required textbook for a special topics course in tourism and communication studies, but it is an enjoyable read nonetheless. While I probably wouldn’t have come across it by my own wanderings, I’m glad that I had the chance to experience it.

The Review: For a book that just barely breaks 81 pages, A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid packs a powerful punch. And whether she simply ran out of things to say (although I highly doubt it) or rather she was simply making a play on her exposition about the island of Antigua as “a small place,” the smallness of the book makes it seem much less intimidating and powerful than it is in reality.

Kincaid’s blunt style offers no warnings, no prefaces, and no excuses, plunging right ahead in the first page into the overarching theme of the book: how white colonization of Antigua has, essentially, destroyed everything that was good and right and true on the island. From paragraph one, Kincaid establishes a second-person POV in which you are placed in the identity of an anonymous tourist visiting Antigua for the first time. From there, it’s full steam ahead through what essentially feels like a “declaration of rights and grievances” against the colonial time period in general.

I’ll admit—after finishing the first chapter, I was sitting neck-deep in a pile of muddy guilt. I wanted to apologize to the Antiguan people for what had been done to them. The power of Kincaid’s words lies mainly in the fact that, although the ground-level basis of understanding for slavery and colonization has been thoroughly established (through rhetoric on early American colonization and the Civil War), she presents the reader with a new, underrepresented account of what happened in Antigua.

Kincaid’s lyrical writing juxtaposes what was (pre-colonization) with what is (post-modernization, if you can even call it that) in a way that draws in even the most politically reluctant reader (such as myself). She doesn’t tip-toe around issues of race and politics. Who am I kidding—she stomps all over them like a step team at nationals.

And while I absolutely do not discount her outrage, and I am overwhelmingly sorry for and sympathetic to the horrors that the Antiguan people faced at the hands of the Europeans, I couldn’t help but feel alienated by the attack-attack-attack mantra that Kincaid adopts throughout the book. She gets so mired down in lamenting the past that she creates a lens with which she views the present and the future.

But that’s not to say that I didn’t appreciate the book. Kincaid’s conviction and never-back-down attitude is very much the core of what draws the reader through to the end. It is only the very last section that an element of hope is introduced and Kincaid posits that perhaps the “non-reality” of Antigua might one day become its redemption. Her final lines are justifiably haunting for the clarity they provide concerning humanity:

“Of course, the whole thing is, once you cease to be a master, once you throw off your master’s yoke, you are no longer human rubbish, you are just a human being, and all the things that adds up to. So, too, with the slaves. Once they are no longer slaves, once they are free, they are no longer noble and exalted; they are just human beings.”*

*Quotation used under the fair use exemption of the United States Copyright Act of 1976 ( )
  avwright | Apr 5, 2011 |
A Small Place is a frank and often scathing collection of essays that analyse the impact of British rule, American influence and tourism on the island of Antigua, Jamaica Kincaid's birthplace.

The first essay is addressed directly to those who visit the island for a holiday. It's sarcastic and has a sly wit, talking directly to the tourist, reassuring them that it's OK if you don't think too deeply about the problems you can see in Antigua, you're on holiday after all. Through this conversational reassurance, she shines a light on the social and political issues of the island, the continuing neagtive impact of colonialism and the ineptitudes of the governments that have followed the granting of self-rule - exactly the things that a thoughful visitor should take notice of. It's a clever way of making this white British reader laugh at the studipity of other Western travellers who don't notice the reality behind the facade of a sun-drenched paradise, but then fill me with guilt that although I think I'm a responsible, politically-conscious backpacker I probably look exactly these ignorant travellers to the people whose country I'm visiting.

Kincaid then goes on to write about the Antigua she grew up in, with its streets named after English 'maritime criminals' such as Horatio Nelson and the branch of Barclays Bank (founded by slave-traders), and the casual racism and cultural oppression of the British - making Queen Victoria's birthday an official holiday, for example. But she isn't afraid of criticising her fellow country people: 'We didn't say to ourselves, Hasn't this extremely unappealing person been dead for years and years? Instead, we were happy for a holiday.'

In the third essay, Kincaid sharpens this focus on the Antiguans themselves, asking 'Is the Antigua I see before me, self-ruled, a worse place than when it was dominated by the bad-minded English?'. She uses the image of her local library, damaged in an earthquake in 1974 and still left unrepaired at the time of writing in 1988, as a symbol of the political indifference and wekaness.

A Small Place was an uncomfortable read - exactly what Kincaid must have set out to achieve - but it isn't preachy or boring. It's the kind of book that a large part of the British and American populations (especially politicians) should be made to read. ( )
2 vote charbutton | Oct 3, 2010 |
Showing 1-5 of 11 (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.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374527075, Paperback)

A brilliant look at colonialism and its effects in Antigua--by the author of Annie 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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:04 -0400)

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