A SMALL PLACE by Jamaica Kincaid
Kirkus Star

A SMALL PLACE

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

In a book as brief (96 pages), swift, and stinging as a viper's strike, Kincaid makes her nonfiction debut by turning her astonishing talents--seen in a short-story collection (At the Bottom of the River, 1983) and a novel (Annie John, 1985)--to a subject that eats like salt at her wounded heart: the rape by white tourists of her native land, Antigua. It's at these interlopers that Kincaid spits her lovely venom, adopting the rare second-person narrative form: ""If you go to Antigua as a tourist,"" she begins, ""this is what you will see."" What she reveals is a land of ungodly natural beauty (""no real seawater could strike that many shades of blue at once. . .no real cloud could be that white""), external oppression and of an internal corruption, legacy of colonialisms, wherein, as everyone knows, ""People close to the Prime Minister openly run one of the largest houses of prostitution"" and ""it is not a secret that a minister is involved in drug trafficking."" For Kincaid, a prime symbol of the suffering is Antigua's public library, once housed in ""a big, old wooden building painted a shade of yellow"" and now, after the 1972 earthquake, housed in a ""dung heap"" above a dry-goods store; meanwhile, native Antiguans wait for white members of the exclusive Mill Reef Club to decide whether to offer money to restore the old building. Kincaid rages not only at the library's fate, but at ""what sort of place has Antigua become that the people from the Mill Reef Club are allowed a say in anything?"" For are they not descendants of the ""human rubbish"" that colonized the land, and cousins of you, a tourist, ""an ugly, empty thing, a stupid thing. . .pausing here and there to gaze at this and taste that. . .""? At turns elegaic and vicious, self-pitying and proud, this electrifying work is a new classic in the literature of hate--and of love, for a tortured land and for the possibility, albeit dim, of changing things: ""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.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1988
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux