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A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid
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A Small Place

by Jamaica Kincaid

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With subdued humor and in a sardonically tone, Kincaid writes of her home country, Antigua – addressing the colonial days under English rule and post colonialism (ending in the late 1980’s when the book was published), and touched upon the origin of the country which was populated by imported slaves, making this a country with no culture. I learned a lot about corruption from this book – the depths to which everyone and everything is interrelated with funds being diverted lining the pockets of those in control. First it was the English, the “putty faced” who came and made what they can and took the money away. Then it was the elected ministers who learned to run the country from the English – make money and line their own pockets.

The problem with fictions, including memoirs, is that it’s the author’s truth – or opinion. I don’t dispute Kincaid’s facts. It is decidedly one sided, and I prefer a more balanced view. There is a lot of anger towards the English for their empire days and their innate racism telling the Antiguans to stop behaving like monkeys on trees. In between the negativity suggested more freedom then than now, plus a majestic library which never hurts. There is just as much, possibly more, anger towards the corrupt ministers who enabled foreigners to make money off Antigua or funded job promises that never materialized. Yet she also expressed mockery towards the honest ministers – one who became a pauper and one who now drives a taxi.

Not surprisingly, there are zingers throughout such as “…in a country that had less liberty than it used to have, Liberty Weekend was celebrated. In countries that have no culture or are afraid they may have no culture, there is a Minister of Culture.” And “You must not wonder what exactly happened to the contents of your lavatory when you flushed it… Oh, it might all end up in the water you are thinking of taking a swim in; the contents of your lavatory might, just might, graze gently against your ankle as you wade carefree in the water, for you see, in Antigua, there is no proper sewage-disposal system.” If it’s not obvious, she hates tourists! “And ugly thing, that is what you are when you become a tourist, an ugly, empty thing, a stupid thing, a piece of rubbish pausing here and there to gaze at this and taste that, and it will never occur to you that the people who inhabit the place in which you have just paused cannot stand you…” But for a country without any other industries, what miraculous economy is she expecting?

Undoubtedly, she has a lot of passion for her home country, rightfully so. Everyone should, and I’m glad she defended its unreal beauty. I wish she defended the people too, at least the ordinary, honest people, such as herself, but she mocks those too. “All slaves of every stripe are noble and exalted… Once they are no longer slaves, once they are free, they are no longer noble and exalted; they are just human beings.” Perhaps this is her defense that the corrupt ministers are only human beings… flawed human beings. ( )
  varwenea | Apr 5, 2016 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 13 (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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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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