Autobiography of My Mother, by Jamaica Kincaid *****

autobiography of my motherJamaica Kincaid is one of the best writers in the world, and of those who have gained a reputation for excellence, she is surely the angriest. In this fictional memoir, she unravels a tale of neocolonialism within a family, a hierarchy in which the child has the status of a servant. I was two-thirds of the way through it before I realized she had spun the entire story exclusively out of narrative, never flagging or losing momentum despite the complete lack of dialogue. Most of the action is within the protagonist’s mind rather than physical, though there more than one vivid depiction of abortion, and some really sensual sexual passages. In other words, it is outstanding, but not something to hand to an adolescent without due consideration.

Kincaid uses poetic devices, particularly repetition, in a way that is rare in prose, and she uses it deftly. Her narrator and protagonist is a woman whose mother dies in childbirth. Her mother is of African descent; her father is European. She describes the funeral for her half-brother, the favored one, and in doing so peels her father’s religion right down to its barest nub:

“And so again, what makes the world turn? Most of the people in that church would want to know. They were singing a hymn. The words were: ‘ Oh Jesus, I have promised/To serve Thee to the end:/Be Thou for ever near me, /My Master and my friend.’ I wanted to knock on the church door then. I wanted to say, Let me in, let me in. I wanted to say, Let me tell you something: This Master and friend business, it is not possible; a master is one thing and a friend is something else altogether, something completely different; a master cannot be a friend…Yes, but what really makes the world turn? And his mouth, grim with scorn for himself, will say the words: Connive, deceive, murder.”

The nostalgia the colonizers feel for England and for all things English, which are completely at odds with the tropical climate and Third World population of Jamaica, make for searing commentary. What else can I tell you, than that this book and this writer should be on your list? Whether for the social commentary that is part and parcel of everything this author sends out to the world, or whether for the outstanding craftsmanship that is so valuable to anyone who loves to read or wants to write, this book is highly recommended.

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