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A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid

A Small Place

by Jamaica Kincaid

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In A Small Place, Jamaica Kincaid reflects on the legacy of colonialism and its interaction with tourism in Antigua. She condemns the colonists who forever changed the Antiguans' world, including their language, and left a vacuum when they left into which flooded various corrupt officials as well as the tourists who represent the latest assault on the island nation. Kincaid's acerbic wit adds a surprising amount of humor to her condemnation of these two forces that shaped her homeland. She has explored similar themes in her other work, but this one feels the most personal, the most unfiltered. ( )
  DarthDeverell | Jan 21, 2016 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 12 (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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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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