The Au­to­bi­og­ra­phy of My Mother – Ja­maica Kin­caid

The Star (St. Lucia) - - BOOK REVIEW - By Clau­dia Eliebox

My read­ing this week moved back to one of the Caribbean’s most lux­u­ri­ant writ­ers in my opin­ion. Many West In­di­ans may know about Ja­maica Kin­caid’s in­fa­mous lit­er­a­ture from study­ing the ti­tle “An­nie John” in se­condary school. I as­sure you “The Au­to­bi­og­ra­phy of My Mother” is even more no­to­ri­ous. The pale, vin­tage pink cover with the old pho­to­graph of, I pre­sume, a semi-Carib woman, is as mys­te­ri­ous as the Mona Lisa by Da Vinci. But the writ­ing… is out of this world, the more un­com­fort­able it is the harder it is to put it down.

This novel is set in Do­minica. Xuela Claudette Richardson en­ters this world and causes her mother to lose her life. The en­tire story is told as if it is a re­sult of her mother’s death, or the fact that Xuela is forced to grow up with­out a mother. She is first placed into the care of her fa­ther’s laun­der but when she turns seven, at­tends school and learns to write, her se­cret plead­ing let­ters to her fa­ther find their way to him. Much richer than he was seven years be­fore, he comes to her res­cue as if not bring­ing her into the mis­for­tune in the first place. He is now mar­ried to an­other woman who bears him two chil­dren all while try­ing to get rid of Xuela. Even­tu­ally she is brought to the house of a mar­ried cou­ple in Roseau to live with, her fa­ther’s friends. Xuela se­duces the hus­band and after many sex­ual en­coun­ters with him she be­comes preg­nant. She iso­lates her­self, and com­mits to only one man out of love, but that love soon fades away. As life goes on, her known rel­a­tives die. In the end she mar­ries an­other friend of her fa­ther’s, but not out of love.

That is all the story is, sim­ple and short. But it’s not the story that re­ally mat­ters in Ja­maica Kin­caid’s book. It is how she cre­ates a char­ac­ter so bru­tally hon­est about her place in this world, in this Caribbean, as the daugh­ter of a Carib woman, whom her fa­ther thought he had loved. It is the way she de­scribes and openly tells of her im­moral­i­ties and em­braces them. The way Xuela de­scribes life in Do­minica, the obeah, the politics, the rainy sea­son. The way rich peo­ple gain riches, stomp­ing on the poor and then at­tend­ing church in their last days. Churches that were built by slaves. Xuela so eas­ily knows that she can­not and will not love. She seems to know ev­ery­thing that she should know, in­clud­ing how to abort ba­bies, and how to poi­son wives. She blas­phemes against laws of mar­riage and never feels an ounce of guilt, “Why is the state of mar­riage so de­sir­able that all women are afraid to be caught out­side it? And why does this woman who has never seen me be­fore, to whom I have never made any prom­ise, to whom I owe noth­ing, hate me so much?” Ja­maica Kin­caid words the joys of wrong do­ings and the in­jus­tices of so­ci­ety the way peo­ple think them, but are too coward to speak those words. This is a must have book to add to your col­lec­tion.

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