A Small Place – Ja­maica Kin­caid

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

This is the third time I’m re­view­ing a book by Ja­maica Kin­caid. Ev­ery time I do, I get swal­lowed into the strange­ness of her short but not so sweet prose. Read­ing her work is like sin­ning: it leaves you with a sour feel­ing but you keep com­ing back for more. It only feels like that be­cause she bru­tally ex­poses the harsh re­al­ity of Caribbean life as ei­ther an is­lan­der, a WestIn­dian woman, a politi­cian or a mem­ber of the elite and, as a reader, one can only suf­fer from guilt or recog­ni­tion.

The events of Kin­caid’s life re­veal the rea­sons be­hind the con­stant themes and tones in her lit­er­a­ture, and her lit­er­a­ture re­veals some re­bel­lious as­pects of her per­son­al­ity. A Small Place is the per­fect em­bod­i­ment of it all. Un­der­stand­ably, Kin­caid suf­fered many neg­a­tive re­views and chas­tise­ment for what seems to be her non­cha­lant bold­ness but in the book she re­mains true to her goal and that calls for pos­i­tive feed­back as well.

A Small Place is a four-part es­say writ­ten in a con­ver­sa­tional style. It be­gins with Kin­caid en­cour­ag­ing the reader to con­cep­tu­al­ize be­ing a tourist to the pink and white sands of An­tigua. En route to a lux­ury ho­tel, she ex­plains the rea­sons be­hind all the Ja­panese cars on the roads as taxis - things that only an An­tiguan would know - as well as the his­tor­i­cal ties of lo­cal man­sions. How­ever, for Kin­caid and the staff who work long hours in the ho­tel, its fancy façade is a dis­guise for post-colo­nial slav­ery. She also in­tro­duces the li­brary and then ex­plains why na­tives do not ac­tu­ally like tourists.

Kin­caid rem­i­nisces about her child­hood and how An­tigua may have been a bet­ter place in that time, de­spite the fact that the only roads paved were the ones the Queen or a princess used once.

Kin­caid ex­plains the ef­fects of colo­nial­ism that are still ev­i­dent in dif­fer­ent forms, but in a very per­sonal for­mat, ex­press­ing all her frus­tra­tion and anger to­wards colo­nial­ists be­hind their var­i­ous masks. She blames the Min­is­ter of Cul­ture and Ed­u­ca­tion for let­ting the li­brary and the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem re­main ne­glected, and the gov­ern­ment for many other sit­u­a­tions that any Caribbean is­lan­der knows about.

The end­ing of her com­po­si­tion, the fourth sec­tion, is my favourite. This is where Kin­caid de­scribes beau­ti­ful lit­tle An­tigua and its peo­ple; an is­land so beau­ti­ful that its at­mos­phere is sur­real and bit­ter-sweet to An­tiguans who are trapped in its scenery but also its im­pov­er­ished state. She de­scribes the slaves who were brought to the Caribbean as “no­ble” and the slave traders as “rub­bish” and a “Euro­pean dis­ease”. The slave descen­dants, how­ever, are just or­di­nary like ev­ery­one else around the world.

A Small Place is, well, a small book! I would rec­om­mend it to any­one (ex­cept a sen­si­tive tourist) know­ing full well that it will evoke a re­ac­tion akin to an­noy­ance, em­pow­er­ment or rage. It doesn’t mat­ter which be­cause, in my per­spec­tive, ei­ther way it’s a re­minder that our coun­try suf­fers some of the same things as An­tigua.

Ja­maica Kin­caid and her works are ad­mired by Sir Derek Wal­cott. She is sched­uled to be the fea­tured lec­turer for our 2017 No­bel Lau­re­ate Fes­ti­val.

This book is avail­able at The bookYard. Visit us to­day, email us at the bookyard@ stlu­ci­as­tar.com, or call the Star on 450 7827 for more de­tails.

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