Monday, January 18, 2010

Jamaica Kincaid's A Small Place review

I finished Jamaica Kincaid's A Small Place tonight. It is just how I remembered it; a very angry book. She is angry over everything; the British, the tourists, the corruption of the government, everything. It is a hard book to read, especially as a white North American (or European) the ones she most mad at. I don't think I really got anything new out of it this read through. I mean, I understand why it's taught in the post-colonialism literature classes. It is the definition of post-colonialism. She describes the fact that she has no culture, no voice to speak with that is her own. Everything she uses is from the British, the colonizers. She wonders briefly what her life would be like if there had been no British colony. Her ancestors were the slaves brought to the island to work in the sugar fields. She then laments her people for not being able to build on what had been established after the British finally leave and Antigua gains independence. She clearly states the problems that plague many former colonies. So, it is a good book to read to understand the mindset of the people living in the former colonies of Britain. Of course, every colony is a bit different, but I think the book gives a good general description of how it mostly goes when the colonizers leave.

The book consists of four small parts with an illustrated page between each of them. The first part may be the hardest to read. It deals with the tourist and specifically targets the North Americans and Europeans. She actually sort of attacks the reader, by writing this part in second person point of view. She uses 'you' in the first part, I think, to elicit a response from the readers. Perhaps to somehow hold us accountable for the tragedies of colonialism and slavery. I really disliked the first part and nearly put the whole book down and walked away. I am not one of these generalized 'yous' she speaks of and I was really angry at her for casting me in this role. This is probably the effect she is going for; and if so, bravo she achieves it quickly. I hated it, but continued to the next part.

The next part is her attack on Britain. Okay, this is a valid grievance, but she is so bitter about everything British that I found it hard to get through again. What the British did was awful, no arguments there. But it's done and over and you can't really change the past. You can be as angry as you want, but will that really change anything? Maybe I just can not truly understand where she's coming from, because I've not been in her situation. However, the entire book really becomes one long rant on all the evils of the island and I can't connect with that thought-process. Perhaps, if she had written it like a novel, with a strong main character I could follow and love, who goes through these post-colonial changes, maybe then I could understand. Ranting does me no good. I am not you, I am not angry at these people.

After she attacks the British, she moves on to her own government. Antigua's government is pretty corrupt; which she links directly to the British colonizers. She claims that the British of the island taught her people how to behave corruptly. There is some truth in that, no denying. She really hammers the point home that nothing gets done on the island without someone profiting from it. She's disappointed that the government of the independent Antigua is really no better than when the British were running things. It may even be worse; and she can't stand that fact.

She does conclude with a small bit of admiration for the beauty of the island, but that doesn't save the book. On the back of the book, the description states, "Her language soars above her anger and her outrage". No it doesn't. I don't think it ever gets above the anger. There was barely any spot without anger and outrage in it. Again, that is obviously the point. It's a book designed to generate anger. Maybe she hopes this will make people think about these situations, or maybe she is just mad and wants everyone to know.

Anyway, her anger and such toward the British made me decide that the next author will be a Brit. Charles Dickens I think, you can't get much more British than him. Until then.

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