March 9, 2011
If you are the typical tourist who goes to foreign countries and like to enjoy yourself by exploring other cultures then A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid is the book for you. Kincaid is an Antiguan native who expresses her views of Antigua to the average tourist. Kincaid was born in Antigua and moved to the United States at the age of 16. At times she is abrupt and in your face and questions your thoughts as a traveler. This book will have you second guessing yourself and what you truly do not think nor see when you are too busy vacationing. Kincaid also writes in depth about the Antigua she knew growing up and what really lies behind the spectacular beauty of the small island. Through Kincaid’s opinions and thoughts of the Antigua she knew and what it has become she gets you thinking about the life you live and how lucky you are.
One of the first things you notice when you open the book and begin to read is that the book is divided into four parts. What may be confusing for some reader is that the “chapters” have no titles, but simply faint black and white pictures of Antigua. I found this unique as it was something I have never seen done before. Kincaid’s imagery for example when she speaks about the clear blue ocean or the vast countryside is truly impressive. When reading I even looked up Antigua on the computer. It seemed so beautiful and too good to be true that I had to see an actual photo to believe it. The tone in this book is like no other. Throughout this book you will find yourself stopping and thinking about what Kincaid describes. The way Kincaid attacks you through this book is a bit much but she does manage to get her points across well. In this book you will feel like the finger is always being pointed at you and you are always wrong, which can be a bit frustrating at times. Like when Kincaid brings up the point that all tourists are ugly, let’s face it who is she to say that? This book not only gives you an in depth look at Antigua but questions you in ways you never truly would as a tourist.
I felt at times it was hard to continue reading when Kincaid was expressing her views, and being hypocritical. She came off as too strong, and I felt she could have expressed her thoughts in a different softer tone than always making us, the average tourist feel like such a bad people. I do feel Kincaid has many true facts about tourists and how oblivious they can be to the realities of its people. Maybe if she went about writing her book in a different way rather than always making us the reader feel at fault then maybe this would have been a great book to recommend.
March 9, 2011
Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place examines the history of Antigua through the eyes of someone who has lived through and experienced the oppression and frustrations felt by many Antiguans. Her raw and harsh portrayal of the contrast between the tourists and the locals places a feeling of guilt within the reader, who has more than likely been a tourist themselves. Kincaid opens the book with an emotion-evoking chapter on the view of the native Antiguan to the tourist, who she narrows down to mostly white Europeans or Americans. Her direct and potent insults illustrate her hatred towards tourists, referring to them as, “An ugly thing, that is what you are when you become a tourist, and ugly, empty thing, a stupid thing, a piece of rubbish pausing here and there to gaze at this and taste that…” (17). Kincaid then goes on to show her detestation for Britain who was responsible for the colonization of Antigua, and her bitterness with the legacies of slavery that took place on this small island. She directly blames the British for the complete devastation of her country and asserts that, “no natural disaster imaginable could equal the harm that they did.” (23-24)
Kincaid’s writing portrays her disappointment with the new, “free” Antigua, especially the loss of social values and the corruption that plagued the government and those higher up in society. She also references the library several times in the book, which was damaged in the 1974 earthquake, to demonstrate Antigua’s problems, repairs to which are also “pending.” (42) Although the library was a British colonial building, Kincaid refers to it with a sentimental view, plaintive about the loss of books and location of the building. Overall, Kincaid’s opinionated writing outlines Antigua’s destroyed culture and society; the few rich Antiguans on the island will not fund reparations of the old library, and therefore will not aid in the repair of the nation as whole. A Small Place is a very simple-written book, but has a lasting impact on the reader that is somewhat of a reality check. With such a beautiful setting, tourists are often led to believe a place like Antigua is paradise. This book articulates the crisis plaguing many developing nations that although independent, still have not yet shaken off the negative legacies of colonialism. Although Antigua is a small pace, as referred to several times, huge events with life-changing impacts on its citizens have occurred. Moreover, this is a highly recommendable read to all who want their eyes opened to the realities of the world’s suffering nations.
March 9, 2011
Jamaica Kincaid’s’ A Small Place is a very personal piece of writing. Not only does it relate the author’s personal experiences and opinions of her birthplace, the island of Antigua, but it is also written as a very personal attack on the life and values of me, the hapless reader. This short book starts by stereotyping, generalizing, and admonishing me as a member of a moderately wealthy, white, Euro-American tourist populous. “A tourist is an ugly human being.” (14) The five pages following this statement outline how, based on the assumed motivations for my recreational travels, I live a clichéd existence of mediocrity punctuated by the luxury of vacations that I see as necessary to escape the banality of my own life. Once arriving at my vacation spot of choice, I attempt to fit in to, or at least appreciate the quaintness of the lives led there, all the while looking like a fool to the locals. The book continues with contemptuous writing of the same ilk, making claims about the ideals and perceptions of the reader especially with regard to the extensive corruption in the government around the time of publication (1988) – which caused hardships for the common residents – juxtaposed with the lives of foreigners and the remnants of colonial rule. The effectiveness of this piece of writing comes in large part from the cunningness of the sarcastic prose. Its stream-of-consciousness format incorporates arguments, examples, accusations and rebuttals in one long thought, all before you can manage to take issue with the premise of the statement or begin to clarify a response. The author makes liberal use of the parenthesis, in both the left and right varieties. Perhaps the more profound observation to be made about this book is that every accusation, every stereotype has some sort of truth to it, at least for this reader. I am moderately wealthy and white. I have been that tourist feeling slightly uncomfortable in a culture slightly different from my own. I am of English descent and feel a sense of connection to (even romanticism about) the glory of the English Empire at its height, despite never having lived in the country. Is this the effect on me of the Anglo-glorifying version of history described on pages 30 and 31 of the book? I wonder if this essay has as striking an effect on someone who doesn’t fit the stereotypes of the reader as well as I do. Would someone who isn’t white, or who wasn’t raised to feel some sense of loyalty to the Crown react as strongly to the accusations of evil on the part of colonizers? Would they be more able, “to accept that [the corruption in modern Antigua] is mostly [their] fault?” (35) The strength of this book relies on the reader identifying with the “you” to whom the book is addressed. That being said, its provocative tone and theses will lead to a compelling read for anyone.
March 8, 2011
“If you go to Antigua as a tourist, this is what you will see” (1). Read the first line of Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place and be ready to strap yourself in for a ride. Antiguan native, Kincaid is a novelist, gardener, and former reporter for The New Yorker Magazine, while also a professor of literature. In a memoir just under eighty-five pages Kincaid wastes no time, but cuts right into the meat of her beliefs. After experiencing a rough childhood filled with discontent, Kincaid has developed strong feelings for people who choose to vacation in her motherland. Splitting her essay into four sections allows Kincaid to dedicate each section to a specific aspect of Antigua, giving her reader a look into both the past and present. Assuming her audience is either American or European, Kincaid talks to the reader as a tourist who is presumably well educated enough to be aware of Antiguan difficulties, but carefree enough to push aside such knowledge in order to enjoy a vacation. Speaking as an Antiguan, Kincaid states the reasons why a native “does not like a tourist is not hard to explain” (18). Kincaid draws attention to those tourists who try to blend in with locals, while never failing to “look silly”. Reminding the reader that Antiguans were once British subjects, Kincaid addresses the imperfections of her homeland, the “desperation and depression” (18) of natives, the envy they feel watching tourists indulge in pleasure. Written in such a way that the audience is being questioned, we, as readers are forced to look deeper into ourselves to interpret what Kincaid is preaching. It is each reader’s duty to decide whether or not they choose to accept the challenge of looking beyond the physical beauty of a vacation spot to see the true harsh realities. In order to dive into A Small Place, a reader must have an open mind – ready to appreciate Kincaid’s different points of view, and along with an open mind, readers must be equipped with a tough skin – not subject to get offended when being called an “ugly human being” (14). By the end of the short book Kincaid has inevitably entered the conscience of her readers by directing them to an unpleasant side of tourism. As a reader I enjoyed Kincaid’s style of writing, and I felt I was able to appreciate her views, although, I do not agree with all of her claims on tourists, as I have been one myself. Kincaid forces us to examine the culture of tourism, to think twice about the places we visit, and the people who call it a home, while directly encouraging us to view it as a place much more complex than its physical beauty. I would invite adults of all ages to indulge in Kincaid’s point of view, allowing her message to spread, intoxicating the population with a deeper respect and awareness for the natives of their next vacation spot.