Book Review: "A Small Place" by Jamaica Kincaid

This essay is not a call to action, much less is it a political document, it is a cry for readers to see the world differently, to see it beyond themselves.


Nicole Mateo, She/Hers

Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place is not “a call to action”, in fact to label this masterpiece this pubescent desire is an act of injustice. Kincaid allows readers into her stream of consciousness where she vehemently sketches a powerful portrait of her native land, Antigua; an island where colonialism has transcended its reach, eradicating Antigua’s national identity. But this essay is not a call to action. Kincaid is not here to offer readers hope or constructive solutions to neocolonialism. Solutions are not proffered because A Small Place is not a guide for ethical travel. Many may read this text and assume Kincaid is arguing for you- the reader, the tourist, the colonist, to change; to relinquish your mind from the mental shackles of ignorance, but Kincaid’s criticisms must not be confused with calls for mobilization. After allowing readers to become tourists in her own paradise, her mind, readers should come to understand that Kincaid is actually arguing for the implication of the readers, for readers to acknowledge the unwavering truth they are apart of; the complete barbarity of colonialism and its long term consequences of imperial behavior. This essay is not a call to action, much less is it a political document, it is a cry for readers to see the world differently, to see it beyond themselves. Kincaid’s eloquent use of sardonic and direct writing constantly breaks the fourth wall, addressing the reader directly. She predicts their every move as a hypothetical tourist and forces readers to feel responsible for the things she is arguing; becoming modern day accomplices to neocolonialism with their ignorant tourist-like tendencies. Hope is the primary sentiment behind all calls to action and is often not attributed to oppression. But the hope of this reader is dangerous. By making this a personal essay and not a political document, Kincaid dismisses the idea of educating the readers on what they should be doing. Kincaid is writing for herself, liberating her mind from centuries of oppression and pent up anger. Readers who assume this is Kincaid calling for readers to mobilize are confusing her truths with policy. Kincaid does not exist for this reader. This reader, the reader who believes they have been summoned to right these wrongs are choosing to ignore her truths. There is not one direct call by Kincaid for readers to mobilize and yet this reader feels compelled to do so. There is no sympathy from this reader, they have co-opted Kincaid’s existence to work with their own agenda. An agenda where they will choose to forget their role in neocolonialism. Just like the colonists, they have manipulated something that is not theirs. Policy does not reveal truths. And Kincaid eloquently expresses her truths by way of a personal essay. If readers choose to ignore this method of expression then they have chosen a just as violent route as their ancestors, silencing, and silencing is erasure. Readers who have chosen to disregard Kincaid’s sincerity remove that element of her vulnerability and transform it into something that reeks of stiff protocol and procedure. Kincaid opened her mind, her paradise to the reader; she presented her grief, only to have it be strategized and colonized by the reader, and that is insidious. There are an abundance of small places in this world, each burdened with the lasting impacts of colonialism. These little paradises are home to much beauty but their collective dark pasts have seeped through to their present in the form of insidious vessels of colonialism. These paradises are deceiving, plagued with the innately violent nature of selfish tourists; for a paradise cannot truly exist if trauma and systems of oppression are rooted in their existence. In dismissing the idea of hope for these paradises, Kincaid eloquently works to establish the precedent of demanding more from those who relish in their comfort. So, you, the reader can do better than your colonialist ancestors.