A Small Place, by Jamaica Kincaid, is only 81 pages long, but it hits with a powerful impact. The “small place” is Antigua, the country in which she grew up and describes as being nine miles wide and twelve miles long. With sardonic humor and a laser-precision of words, she reveals the devastating effects of colonialism, slavery, and tourism on this tiny country.
The Antigua that I knew, the Antigua in which I grew up, is not the Antigua you, a tourist, would see now. That Antigua no longer exists. That Antigua no longer exists partly for the usual reason, the passing of time, and partly because the bad-minded people who used to rule over it, the English, no longer do so.
With incising wit, she reveals the personal toll of the subjugation of the people of Antigua, and the racism and corruption they were and are still faced with on a daily basis, even though now “self-governed.” The “masters” from colonial times, she calls “human rubbish,” and the slaves, she calls “noble and exalted.” And it becomes clear that this beautiful but troubled country continues to struggle with its tortured past and it’s difficult path to self-government.
Here is how she describes Antigua and the people of Antigua today:
Eventually, the masters left, in a kind of way; eventually, the slaves were freed, in a kind of way. The people in Antigua now, the people who really think of themselves as Antiguans (and the people who would immediately come to your mind when you think about what Antiguans might be like; I mean, supposing you were to think about it), are the descendants of those noble and exalted people, the slaves. 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.
As I said at the beginning of this review, this was a very powerful read. I was fascinated by Jamaica Kincaid’s style of writing in this book. Sardonic, bitter, hard-hitting and very effective in helping the reader really understand the long-term devastating impacts on the country of Antigua of colonialism, slavery, post-independence corruption, and racism. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like the little book before, and I admire the power of this writer’s words.
I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “Wanderlust,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each country of the world. This was a book about Antigua.
I also read this book as part of my year-long celebration of turning 70 years old. Jamaica Kincaid was born in the same year as me, 1949! Happy 70th Birthday year to you, too, Ms. Kincaid!