Book: A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000
Genre: Colonialism, Caribbean Studies, Memoir, Ethnic Studies
Source + Date Read: Purchased + Finished Feb. 2009
Recommend: Strongly recommend for everyone, especially those that want a different perspective of the Caribbean (it is more than pirates!)
Book Pro’s: Kincaid is a lyric writer with amazing prose
Book Con’s: The writing is very academic at times
Favourite Line: “Do you see the queer thing about people like me? Sometimes we hold your retribution.”
What’s not to love? The Publishers did well with this one. We see a classic painting, with a fair-haired White woman, lulling herself to sleep high atop a tree branch. The entertainer strums his instrument even upon sight of the falling woman. Never fear however, because despite this fall, the woman is safe and well supported upon the strength and safety net of the Black people. This screams symbolism bitches!.
Kincaid’s A Small Place takes place in her native homeland of Antigua. We are treated to a lyrical, scathing experience from the airport to the very tip of the island.
There are no characters, just an omnipresent voice taking us along our journey of Antigua. The voice is neither male or female, here nor there.
“But some natives–most natives in the world–cannot go anywhere. They are too poor. They are too poor to go anywhere. They are too poor to escape the reality of their lives; and they are too poor to live properly in the place where they live, which is the very place you, the tourist, want to go–so when the natives see you, the tourist, they envy you, they envy your ability to leave your own banality and boredom, they enjoy your ability to turn their own banality and boredom into a source of pleasure for yourself.”
Kincaid’s voice is startling and clear in A Small Place. Our journey begins as tourists that are exiting a plane, onto a too hot land, where the airport is named after someone famous, but the hospitals are not. Our journey continues.
Withattitude, and an all-too-personal sarcasm, Kincaid describes her native Antigua and Barbuda (mostly Antigua) through 2 lenses, that of the tourist and the native. What makes this piece great is Kincaid’s handling of 2 very different perspectives. The first rendering is of the innocent, angelic tourist. Who is just that, an innocent person, who just wants to get away from their cold, mundane life. And in less than a sentence we are treated to the harsh, grating, painful truth of the native. It is truly painful. This dual nature, is confusing for some (why is this sarcasm warranted? what did the tourist do to her?), but we bitches from BWB believe that in A Small Place it is artfully and successfully done. So much so, that it is a unique and honest perspective. We don’t see that much these days.
Another strength in the book is Kincaid’s use of metaphor and descriptions. As readers, we feel the heat dripping from the humid sky, the crystal blue waters (behind hotel walls) seem to seem right in front of us. Yet, we also cannot run from the massive cracks in the roads and decrepit nature of the nation’s institutions.
A Small Place is, ultimately, an interesting look into a small Caribbean nation. Kincaid successfully downplays every Caribbean stereotype whilst playing up her own voice. This task, is not easy to do. Yet, as someone who is familiar with the Caribbean, it is very much appreciated. It is something that had to be done.
If you’re interested in the Caribbean and interested in reading about the culture and realities of the place, without the stereotypes, and welcome to an exceedingly high dose of sarcasm, please read A Small Place.