Not for the Faint Reader

by jentooley

At times we come across a literary work which jars us from the comfort of our leisurely reading time; Jamaica Kincaid has not only taken us from our comfort zones but has made us feel a level of shame, guilt ‘and level of discomfort like no other. We feel as if her narrator is in the room telling us the history of ‘A Small Place’ which she herself associates with and the role in which we westerners have played in it’s current state of destitution. Difficult to compare to anything else A Small Place becomes an instantly distinct, memorable and thought provoking book. Upon reading some sympathetic and sensitive readers will almost feel sick.

This small eighty one paged book tackles many large issues in its small entirety. By focusing on these issues in such a small and groundbreaking way makes the book that much more powerful. As if she only gave herself this amount of words to write, she chose to tackle these themes anyway. Economic underdevelopment, colonialism, neo or post colonialism, national identity, power imbalances , social and market injustices are all discussed in the tiny tome. In a style rarely done Kincaid uses several forms of narrative, perhaps the most suiting and resonating is the use of second person which furthers the idea of the reader being assaulted. The text resonates as an almost anti- travel piece and is openly abusive to naïve western thinking. Each chapter articulates ideas of dualities; dualities of insider and outside, the reality and the vacation; the observer and the observed. The interesting concept of someone’s vacation being someone else’s reality is parallel to the idea of someone’s junk is someone else’s treasure.

The island would not be what it was without the people like Kincaid’s speaker and the speaker would not be the same would it not be for the island. Both the speaker and the tourist experience a form of exile; the speaker feels attached to the island and held back by the social and political injustices whereas the tourist places a self induced and voluntary exile from their individual realities for an escape on the island. The tourist overlooks the banalities of the island and chooses instead to think of their imagined reality as the island’s reality. By choosing this world where the food is grown locally, the people are happy and their being there is helping the entire community is a false, but preferred reality. This book is not recommended for a light read but is good for a brief and harsh view into the injustices felt by people so close. The mask over this issues has been removed and made these issues open for discussion. A text small, direct and different enough that it can not only stay with them but change their perspective and understanding on this often grayed out area of social realities.

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