The Awkward Traveler

by felicityhoeberechts

Do you ever go traveling and feel extremely out of place? Feel like you stick out like a sore thumb? It has probably happened to the best of us at least once in our travels to exotic places, places far different from our home and what we are used to.

I read Jamaica Kincaid’s novel “A Small Place” without really any knowledge of the country Antigua, a small island in the Caribbean, which her non-fiction story is based around. Jamaica wrote this novel, you can tell, from a very personal place within herself. She was born and grew up in Antigua and was a descendant of the slave population. The tone and subject matter she uses tells me she wrote this story to inform people of Antigua’s failing economy. But she writes it in such a way that it makes you, the reader, feel like, in some way, it’s your fault and that you don’t care about what’s happening to the people of Antigua.

She starts off the novel with a very harsh and accusatory tone towards ‘you’, meaning the tourist: how you might go there on vacation, ignoring or not paying any attention to all the problems that are going on around you when you visit: “A tourist is an ugly human being.” (pg. 14). I was really bothered by this tone, and just reading the novel made me feel like I was not welcome in her country, that I would feel out of place and not be comfortable in my surroundings. The culture that I come from is so different that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy their culture, except for the tourist spots. This attitude does show me, however, how passionate Jamaica is about her country and the love she has for it.

The novel consists of very small chapters, almost put together like a bunch of individual essays. As you move through the book, it transforms into more of a history lesson of Antigua. Jamaica gives you the past of the country and the stories of the long-ago slaves that roamed the island. And the sadness that she feels for the way the country has changed really becomes quite evident through her writing: “The Antigua that I knew, the Antigua in which I grew up, is not the Antigua you, a tourist, would see now.” (pg. 23).

I enjoyed learning about this country. I found the narrative to be informative and interesting, even though the story itself probably came from a biased place. I was really drawn into this novel, and into this country through her beautiful imagery in which she immerses the reader – I felt like I was there. She has a great appreciation for the geography of Antigua and its beautiful landscapes: “Sometimes the beauty of it seems unreal…no real sunset could look like that; no real seawater could strike that many shades of blue at once…” (pg. 77).

If you are ever planning on traveling to another country, far different from your own, you may find A Small Place to be very interesting reading. It gives you another perspective on traveling, the perspective of the natives of the country, a peek behind the closed doors of the locals. It was a very quick and easy read, at only 81 pages long, and yet very dense with history and emotions.

 

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