Title: A Small Place
Author: Jamaica Kincaid
Stars: 3 & 1/2 (out of 5)
# of Pages/Words: 81/~20,200
Where It Came From: I purchased this novella from Amazon several months ago. It was a required textbook for a special topics course in tourism and communication studies, but it is an enjoyable read nonetheless. While I probably wouldn’t have come across it by my own wanderings, I’m glad that I had the chance to experience it.
The Review: For a book that just barely breaks 81 pages, A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid packs a powerful punch. And whether she simply ran out of things to say (although I highly doubt it) or rather she was simply making a play on her exposition about the island of Antigua as “a small place,” the smallness of the book makes it seem much less intimidating and powerful than it is in reality.
Kincaid’s blunt style offers no warnings, no prefaces, and no excuses, plunging right ahead in the first page into the overarching theme of the book: how white colonization of Antigua has, essentially, destroyed everything that was good and right and true on the island. From paragraph one, Kincaid establishes a second-person POV in which you are placed in the identity of an anonymous tourist visiting Antigua for the first time. From there, it’s full steam ahead through what essentially feels like a “declaration of rights and grievances” against the colonial time period in general.
I’ll admit—after finishing the first chapter, I was sitting neck-deep in a pile of muddy guilt. I wanted to apologize to the Antiguan people for what had been done to them. The power of Kincaid’s words lies mainly in the fact that, although the ground-level basis of understanding for slavery and colonization has been thoroughly established (through rhetoric on early American colonization and the Civil War), she presents the reader with a new, underrepresented account of what happened in Antigua.
Kincaid’s lyrical writing juxtaposes what was (pre-colonization) with what is (post-modernization, if you can even call it that) in a way that draws in even the most politically reluctant reader (such as myself). She doesn’t tip-toe around issues of race and politics. Who am I kidding—she stomps all over them like a step team at nationals.
And while I absolutely do not discount her outrage, and I am overwhelmingly sorry for and sympathetic to the horrors that the Antiguan people faced at the hands of the Europeans, I couldn’t help but feel alienated by the attack-attack-attack mantra that Kincaid adopts throughout the book. She gets so mired down in lamenting the past that she creates a lens with which she views the present and the future.
But that’s not to say that I didn’t appreciate the book. Kincaid’s conviction and never-back-down attitude is very much the core of what draws the reader through to the end. It is only the very last section that an element of hope is introduced and Kincaid posits that perhaps the “non-reality” of Antigua might one day become its redemption. Her final lines are justifiably haunting for the clarity they provide concerning humanity:
“Of course, the whole thing is, once you cease to be a master, once you throw off your master’s yoke, you are no longer human rubbish, you are just a human being, and all the things that adds up to. So, too, with the slaves. Once they are no longer slaves, once they are free, they are no longer noble and exalted; they are just human beings.”*
*Quotation used under the fair use exemption of the United States Copyright Act of 1976