Belletrista Blog

For each stop on my ‘cruise’, I’m going to try and read at least two works by each writer. The first author that I have encountered is Jamaica Kincaid.

A Small Place

A Small Place is a collection of essays that analyse the impact of British rule, American influence and tourism on the island of Antigua, Jamaica Kincaid’s birthplace.

The first essay is addressed directly to those who visit the island for a holiday. It’s sarcastic and has a sly wit, talking directly to the tourist, reassuring them that it’s OK if you don’t think too deeply about the problems you can see in Antigua, you’re on holiday after all. She shines a light on the social and political issues of the island, the continuing neagtive impact of colonialism and the ineptitudes of the governments that have followed the granting of self-rule – exactly the things that a thoughful visitor should take notice of.

Kincaid then goes on to write about the Antigua she grew up in, with its streets named after English ‘maritime criminals’ such as Horatio Nelson and the branch of Barclays Bank (founded by slave-traders), and the casual racism and cultural oppression of the British – making Queen Victoria’s birthday an official holiday, for example. But she isn’t afraid of criticising her fellow country people: ‘We didn’t say to ourselves, Hasn’t this extremely unappealing person been dead for years and years? Instead, we were happy for a holiday.’

In the third essay, Kincaid sharpens this focus on the Antiguans themselves, asking ‘Is the Antigua I see before me, self-ruled, a worse place than when it was dominated by the bad-minded English?’. She uses the image of her local library, damaged in an earthquake in 1974 and still left unrepaired at the time of writing in 1988, as a symbol of the political indifference and wekaness.

A Small Place was an uncomfortable read for a person from the UK – exactly what Kincaid must have set out to achieve – but it isn’t preachy or boring. It’s the kind of book that a large part of the British and American populations (especially politicians) should be made to read.

Figures in the Distance

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie reads and discusses Jamaica Kincaid’s short story, ‘Figures in the Distance’, for the New Yorker’s monthly fiction podcast. Originally published in the magazine in 1983, the story is about a young girl coming to terms with the concept of death and also about her relationship with her mother.  Kincaid explores the obsession children often have with death and I think she really captures the sometimes odd but weirdly logical tangents that their thoughts can take.  The story later became the first chapter of Kincaid’s novel, Annie John, which I’ve added to my wishlist – I want to find out more about what Kincaid has to say.

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