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Thursday, December 16, 2021

Review: A Small Place

 A Small Place is Jamaica Kincaid's short essay about Antigua. It drips with sarcasm and tastes of bitterness. Right off the bat, you get an examination of how history glorifies the industrial revolution when the reality was that a huge amount of its wealth came from slavery:

he West got rich not from the free (free—in this case meaning got-for-nothing) and then undervalued labour, for generations, of the people like me you see walking around you in Antigua but from the ingenuity of small shopkeepers in Sheffield and Yorkshire and Lancashire, or wherever; and what a great part the invention of the wristwatch played in it, for there was nothing noble-minded men could not do when they discovered they could slap time on their wrists just like that (isn’t that the last straw; for not only did we have to suffer the unspeakableness of slavery, but the satisfaction to be had from “We made you bastards rich” is taken away, too), and so you needn’t let that slightly funny feeling you have from time to time about exploitation, oppression, domination develop into full-fledged unease, discomfort; you could ruin your holiday. (page 9)

 Even though Antigua has been an independent country for some time now, Kincaid doesn't let up on its former colonists, which she blames for teaching its corrupt leaders how to behave:

Have you ever wondered to yourself why it is that all people like me seem to have learned from you is how to imprison and murder each other, how to govern badly, and how to take the wealth of our country and place it in Swiss bank accounts? Have you ever wondered why it is that all we seem to have learned from you is how to corrupt our societies and how to be tyrants? (Page 34)

The book exposes all the corruption, and the sad state of governance on the island, interspersed with scenes from the island describing its beauty and its colors and people. To a large extent, I do wish Kincaid's visited some other former colonies of England's that weren't mismanage. For instance, Singapore was also a former colony, but wasn't nearly as badly mismanaged, and its population is also much larger than Antigua's, so you can't even use the excuse that managing Singapore was an easier job.

To some extent, of course, was luck. Singapore's leaders while every bit as dictatorial as any tyrants could be, at least recognized that rooting out corruption was key to have a successful economy and country. Ultimately, that makes its rulers better off as well, enabling them to have a dynasty that's more stable. The question I'm left with is, "At what point can former colonist countries stop blaming their former colonists and start taking responsibility for the fate of their country?" Kincaid doesn't answer that question. I'll answer it for her anyway: "At what point do you as an adult stop blaming your parents for not giving you a good character forming childhood and start taking responsibility for your actions?"


N said...

She published the book in 1988, only 7 years after Antigua got its independence! I don't think it is fair to say "Even though Antigua has been an independent country for some time now".

Singapore became independent 16 years before Antigua did.

Piaw Na said...

That's still almost 25 years. Singapore at 25 years had already made dramatic improvements.