Want to go on a (Guilt) Trip?

by christinahall2

If you are looking for a book about what to expect when traveling to Antigua, then Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place is an option, though perhaps not of the variety you had in mind. Part travel guide, part memoir, Kincaid’s novella takes us on a tour of Antigua past and present; from a small island under British colonial rule, to a small island trying to stay afloat, dependant on everything it has tried to rid itself of – an outsiders presence. Jamaica Kincaid was born in St. John’s, Antigua, left at the age of seventeen and moved to New York. She has remained in the eastern US, in a sort of self-imposed exile from what she sees as the corrupt and subjected land of her birth. She cannot decide if she was “…brought up by, and so come from, children…artists…or lunatics…or and exquisite combination of all three.” (57) It is from this mixed standpoint, of grudging outsider as well as critical insider, that she writes A Small Place, casting a harsh, unforgiving eye on both the people that visit Antigua, and those that inhabit it.

A Small Place is divided into four untitled sections. The first section has Kincaid entering the mind of a hypothetical tourist, describing the beauty and vibrancy of the landscape that they would be taking in from airport to beachside hotel. Her tone is sarcastic and condescending, and she is critical of the naivety with which tourists visit their holiday destinations, oblivious of the harsh daily realities of those that live there. Next we are taken to the Antigua of Kincaid’s childhood; an Antigua under colonial rule, submerged in English customs, full of “…orphans: no motherland, no fatherland, no gods, no mounds of earth for holy ground…and worst and most painful of all, no tongue.” (31) We are then whisked back to present day, to a nation grappling with independence, run by a corrupt “for sale” (47) government, and which is void of an autonomous culture. We are left with a vision of an island so intensely beautiful that it acts as a “prison” (79) to its people, keeping them in an unchanging place who’s only commodity it has to offer is its beauty.

Kincaid’s writing is passionate, but incredibly unforgiving in her description of the wrongs she has seen inflicted on her native land and peoples. She embarks on angry tangents, addressing big issues: culture lost, slavery, emancipation, political corruption, economic degradation, and other elements of colonial fallout. Her words make you painfully aware of what lies behind the beauty, and how the locals perceive tourists with a mix contempt and necessity. You may know a lot more about Antigua after reading A Small Place, but you may think twice about how or if you want to visit there.

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