A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid

Date Read: May 19th 2017

Published: 2000

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Pages: 81

 

 

 

 

 

The Blurb

Lyrical, sardonic, and forthright, A Small Place magnifies our vision of one small place with Swiftian wit and precision. Jamaica Kincaid’s expansive essay candidly appraises the ten-by-twelve-mile island in the British West Indies where she grew up, and makes palpable the impact of European colonization and tourism. The book is a missive to the traveler, whether American or European, who wants to escape the banality and corruption of some large place. Kincaid, eloquent and resolute, reminds us that the Antiguan people, formerly British subjects, are unable to escape the same drawbacks of their own tiny realm—that behind the benevolent Caribbean scenery are human lives, always complex and often fraught with injustice.

 

Review –★★★★ (4 stars)

Where do I even begin with this book? A Small Place is… brutal. It’s brutal for the reader (especially if you’re a white reader), for Antiguans, the Antiguan government and it’s tourism industry. A Small Place is a short book of 81 pages, full of vitriol, which is somewhat justified. Kincaid gives harsh criticisms on her native island’s dishonest and disappointing leadership and ultimately views the poor governing of Antigua as an extension of colonialism; neo-colonialism, if you will.

In A Small Place, Kincaid takes readers to Antigua in four chapters. In the first chapter, Kincaid describes the picture-perfect beauty of her country and juxtaposes the island’s beauty to the not-so-pretty issues everyday citizens endure. In subsequent chapters, Kincaid critiques the essence of travel, tourism and even tourists – who are mostly white. At some point, I began to wonder if Kincaid condoned xenophobia, because the way she describes how fellow Antiguans and other folks from the Caribbean dislike tourists (to the point where she actually insults imaginary white tourists), it could be seen as quite hateful –

An ugly thing, that is what you are when you become a tourist, an ugly, empty thing, a stupid thing, a piece of rubbish pausing here and there to gaze at this and taste that, and it will never occur to you that the people who inhabit the place in which you have just paused cannot stand you, that behind their closed doors they laugh at your strangeness (you do not look the way they look); the physical sight of you does not please them; you have bad manners (it is their custom to eat their food with their hands; you try eating their way, you look silly; you try eating the way you always eat, you look silly); they do not like the way you speak… (pg. 17)

Halfway through reading, I also began to wonder if this book was banned at some point – it had to be! The bold quote below explains my curiosity –

Is the Antigua I see before me, self-ruled, a worse place than what it was when it was dominated by the bad-minded English and all the bad-minded things they brought with them? How did Antigua get to such a state that I would have to ask myself this? For the answer on every Antiguan’s lips to the question ‘What is going on here now?’ is ‘The government is corrupt. Them are thief, them are big thief.’ Imagine, then, the bitterness and the shame in me as I tell you this. (pg. 42)

I’d fear for my life if I ever published anything like this! I doubt A Small Place is even sold in the Caribbean because Kincaid spews sharp, controversial opinions on (former) Prime Ministers of Antigua, Grenada and Haiti. She’s really a ball of fire, this Kincaid woman!

I think it’s important to read this book/memoir as a satire. If you take Kincaid’s frank critique to heart, you’ll be missing the point completely. Reading Kincaid lament over the corruption and misappropriation of Antiguan government funds felt all too familiar to me. A Small Place mimics the same issues Chinua Achebe had with Nigeria, as seen in The Trouble With Nigeria and mimics the SAME issues we face in Ghana as well. For example – for years, the Chinese have been mining gold in Ghana illegally (locally referred to as ‘Galamsey’) to the point where most of our water bodies (like River Pra & River Ankobra in the Western region, Enu River in the Ashanti Region, The Black Volta in the Upper West Region, River Densu in Accra, Birim River in the Eastern Region) within the country are contaminated with mercury and other toxic metals. While the current administration is trying to put a halt to the illegal mining, allegedly, previous administrations were benefitting from the illegal act. In A Small Place, Kincaid speaks on how ‘The government is for sale; anybody from anywhere can come to Antigua and for a sum of money can get what he wants. (pg. 47).’ Many citizens in Ghana feel the same way! Supermarkets, coffee shops/restaurants, various corporations and even land, are owned by foreigners. Government officials rarely have locals in mind and seem to be easily swayed by money-making foreigners who are slowly taking over our natural resources,

How does a food importer on a small island have enough money to lend to a government? Syrian and Lebanese nationals regularly lend the government money. Syrian and Lebanese nationals own large amounts of land in Antigua, and on the land they own in the countryside they build condominiums that they then sell (prices quoted in United States dollars) to North Americans and Europeans… (pg. 62)

A Small Place is an important book and a wake up call. It reveals a lot of truth, exposes the bad leadership of her native island (well, I don’t know if the government of Antigua has changed much today) and ties all the complex issues Antigua faces to our imperfect human nature. Kincaid’s writing style is direct yet lyrical in this brutally honest account of this small place. This book was originally published back in 1988, but sadly, it’s still relevant to several countries in Africa and the Caribbean today. When will the greed, lies, corruption and dishonesty from people in positions of power ever end? While this book reminded me of Chinua Achebe’s The Trouble With Nigeria, Kincaid’s sour wit and sarcasm are 100 times more piercing than Achebe’s. Read A Small Place and marvel at this woman’s heroism.

★★★★ (4 stars) – Great book. Highly recommend!

[My Kincaid collection thus far. Image via the Instagram page]

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The Trouble with Nigeria by Chinua Achebe

Chinua AchebeDate Read: April 5th 2015

Published: 1983

Publisher: Heinemann

Pages: 68

 

 

 

 

 

The Blurb

The eminent African novelist and critic, here addresses Nigeria’s problems, aiming to challenge the resignation of Nigerians and inspire them to reject old habits which inhibit Nigeria from becoming a modern and attractive country. In this famous book now reprinted, he professes that the only trouble with Nigeria is the failure of leadership, because with good leaders Nigeria could resolve its inherent problems such as tribalism; lack of patriotism; social injustice and the cult of mediocrity; indiscipline; and corruption.

Review – ★★★★★ (5 stars)

“The trouble with Nigeria is simply a failure of leadership…The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership.” pg. 1

The title, The Trouble with Nigeria should actually be called ‘The Trouble with Africa’. In this short book, Achebe questions the motives of the leaders and citizens of Nigeria. Achebe systematically breaks this book into ten chapters, where he discusses the various problems Nigeria was facing in 1983. Some of these chapters are entitled: Tribalism, Indiscipline, Corruption, False Image of Ourselves, Social Injustice and the Cult of Mediocrity, amongst others.

This book is simply brilliant. It is short and straight to the point! Everyone should read this, especially African politicians and people in positions of power. But do African politicians read? A myriad of books in the African Literature genre mirror the happenings of society. Authors use their amazing talent and writing abilities to articulate the faults of our leaders and societies through their stories/fictitious characters. Do the leaders of our societies read these books to hear how the layman feels about the conditions of their nations? Do they care? Even though this book was written in 1983, most of the issues Achebe discusses hold true to Ghana, and other African countries as well- even in present day 2015. Corruption, indiscipline, tribalism, lack of patriotism, illiteracy and greed are killing administrations in several African nations. We honestly need to do better as a people and this book explains why with boldness, style and sharp wit. I loved this! Thank you Chinua Achebe.

My favorite quotes from The Trouble with Nigeria:

“Nigerians are what they are only because their leaders are not what they should be.” pg. 10

“A true patriot will always demand the highest standards of his country and accept nothing but the best for and from his people. He will be outspoken in condemnation of their short-coming without giving way to superiority, despair or cynicism. That is my idea of a patriot.” pg. 16

“Look at our collapsing public utilities, our inefficient and wasteful parastatals and state-owned companies… If you want electricity, you buy your own generator; if you want water, you sink your own bore-hole; if you want to travel, you set up your own airline. One day soon, said a friend of mine, you will have to build your own post office to send your letters!” pg. 20 (Yes, this holds true to Ghana as well, especially issues of electricity *sigh*).

“I must now touch, however briefly, on the grace undermining of national discipline which the siren mentality of Nigerian leaders fosters. In all civilized countries the siren is used in grave emergencies by fire engines, ambulances and the police in actual pursuit of crime. Nigeria, with its remarkable genius of travesty, has found a way to turn yet another useful invention by serious-minded people elsewhere into a childish and cacophonous instrument for the celebration of status.” pg. 34 (Sadly, this is a daily occurrence in Ghana as well. Especially during rush hour).

“My frank and honest opinion is that anybody who can say that corruption in Nigeria has not yet become alarming is either a fool, a crook or else does not live in this country.” pg. 37 (This guy was bold, sheesh!)

“Knowledgeable observers have estimated that as much as 60 percent of the wealth of its nation is regularly consumed by corruption. I have no doubt that defenders of our system would retort: Mere rumor! Where is the proof? No one can offer ‘satisfactory’ proof for the simple reason that nobody issues a receipt for a bribe or for money stolen from the public till.” pg. 41

★★★★★ (5 stars) – Amazing book, I loved it. Absolutely recommend!

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Purchase The Trouble With Nigeria on Amazon