My reading this week moved back to one of the Caribbean’s most luxuriant writers in my opinion. Many West Indians may know about Jamaica Kincaid’s infamous literature from studying the title “Annie John” in secondary school. I assure you “The Autobiography of My Mother” is even more notorious. The pale, vintage pink cover with the old photograph of, I presume, a semi-Carib woman, is as mysterious as the Mona Lisa by Da Vinci. But the writing… is out of this world, the more uncomfortable it is the harder it is to put it down.
This novel is set in Dominica. Xuela Claudette Richardson enters this world and causes her mother to lose her life. The entire story is told as if it is a result of her mother’s death, or the fact that Xuela is forced to grow up without a mother. She is first placed into the care of her father’s launder but when she turns seven, attends school and learns to write, her secret pleading letters to her father find their way to him. Much richer than he was seven years before, he comes to her rescue as if not bringing her into the misfortune in the first place. He is now married to another woman who bears him two children all while trying to get rid of Xuela. Eventually she is brought to the house of a married couple in Roseau to live with, her father’s friends. Xuela seduces the husband and after many sexual encounters with him she becomes pregnant. She isolates herself, and commits to only one man out of love, but that love soon fades away. As life goes on, her known relatives die. In the end she marries another friend of her father’s, but not out of love.
That is all the story is, simple and short. But it’s not the story that really matters in Jamaica Kincaid’s book. It is how she creates a character so brutally honest about her place in this world, in this Caribbean, as the daughter of a Carib woman, whom her father thought he had loved. It is the way she describes and openly tells of her immoralities and embraces them. The way Xuela describes life in Dominica, the obeah, the politics, the rainy season. The way rich people gain riches, stomping on the poor and then attending church in their last days. Churches that were built by slaves. Xuela so easily knows that she cannot and will not love. She seems to know everything that she should know, including how to abort babies, and how to poison wives. She blasphemes against laws of marriage and never feels an ounce of guilt, “Why is the state of marriage so desirable that all women are afraid to be caught outside it? And why does this woman who has never seen me before, to whom I have never made any promise, to whom I owe nothing, hate me so much?”
Jamaica Kincaid words the joys of wrong doings and the injustices of society the way people think them, but are too coward to speak those words.
This is a must have book to add to your collection.