The Autobiography of My Mother

by Jamaica Kincaid

Hardcover, 1996

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

New York : Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1996.

Description

The West Indian narrator vents her bitterness at the unhappy life fate dealt her--mother died in childbirth, father ignored her, stepmother tried to kill her, at school she had an abortion. Finally, she married a white doctor, but it was impossible for her to love him because he was a colonialist. She draws parallels with the despair of her country--Dominica--attributing it to the legacy of slavery. By the author of Lucy.

User reviews

LibraryThing member TheAmpersand
A possibly autobiographical account of a young girl's survival against impossible odds in a static colonial backwater. The language here is crisp and precise: Kincaid is one of those writers that reminds you that writing, like all art, really, is a series of choices: her sentences don't run on as much as they unfold themselves as she plays with opposition, comparison, and paradox. The narrator -- who may or may not be the author -- comes across as a hard, inexhaustible node of determination. This comes as a bit of a surprise, since many books that get tagged as postcolonial literature feature characters caught between two or more cultural traditions and often incapacitated or paralyzed by the contradictions that this experience implies. That's not the case here, although the narrator makes many sharp observations about how Dominica's troubled and varied history has affected those around her, the book has an incongruous Horatio Alger quality that I think that the author herself more or less acknowledges. Of course, it's hard to believe that anyone that lacked an almost superhuman will could make it through the scenes of poverty and degradation depicted in "Autobiography," never mind write about them. Kincaid argues, I think, that this sort of willfulness is a precondition for writing, a necessary toughness.

This doesn't mean that this book's narrator is particularly likeable, or that the book is particularly enjoyable. Kincaid wrestles with a lot of painful history here, but isn't aiming at any particular reconciliation. Her depiction of the Caribbean is, like V.S. Naipaul's, spare and pitiless, and, while Kincaid's description of the act of physical love are marvelously vivid,, there isn't a lot of love or fellow feeling to go around here. A lot of the book's social and personal chasms remain unbridged. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is the sort of book that's more or less guaranteed to make a lot of well-intentioned white people feel decidedly uncomfortable. This, of course might be part of it's concept, and that's fine. But potential readers should keep in mind that it's probably easier to admire "Autobiography of my Mother" than it is to enjoy it.
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LibraryThing member purplehena
Having enjoyed this book when I was in high school, and having enjoyed my reread of Annie John by the same author, I was eager to read this one again. But I had a hard time remaining interested in it this time around. Part of the problem was that Kincaid recycled a lot of what was in Annie John and, having just read Annie John, I didn't want to read the same thing all over again. Furthermore, the main character just irked me ... as the book went on, I felt more and more alienated from her and cared less and less about the fact that her mother died in childbirth. It's funny that Annie John had the opposite effect on me. I have absolutely nothing in common with the main character in either novel, but, in Annie John, Kincaid made me care about the welfare of Annie. Xuela, on the other hand ... I just wanted to get through this and move on to another book.… (more)
LibraryThing member librarybrandy
Well-written, but not particularly engrossing. There's not much of a plot here--if I had to describe it, it's sort of a coming-of-age book, but it goes beyond that, well into adulthood. It's mainly how never knowing her mother (who died when the narrator was born) shaped her whole life, made her who she became. It's not a bad book, or even mediocre; the writing is compelling, even if the story isn't.… (more)
LibraryThing member mirrani
The book made me uncomfortable in the sense that the main character was so sharp and exact about everything. This is a no holding back kind of story, where we learn every little detail because the person telling them just doesn't care what is personal and what is not. This book is all about "Woe-is-me, but I just don't care about it. I'm pushing on, and doing something else." That is a fine quality in a book, but the sharpness and unlikability of the narrator just grated on my nerves. Of course, it is supposed to do that, because that means the writing is well developed and the woman telling the story is genuine. I think you have to be able to handle that kind of sharp tongued, overly truthful, not a care in the world type of character in order to properly enjoy this book. If that type of personality makes you uncomfortable, you probably won't find it as pleasant a read.… (more)
LibraryThing member mahallett
i used to like kincaid but i think that was her non-fiction. this was boring- -very little happens. a lot about her sex life.
LibraryThing member AltheaAnn
A somewhat longer and more complex work than the other book I just read by Kincaid, 'Annie John.' Similarly, though, it deals with fraught and complex emotional relationships. Or lack of relationships. The narrator here is a woman, Xuela, whose mother died in childbirth; and who lets that lack define who she is as as person.

Her father is a distant and venal man, and Xuela doesn't think much of him. By necessity, she is essentially on her own. However, as the book progresses, she seeks something(?) in others: the narrator has an affair with a much older man, marries a white man who cares deeply for her but whom she does not love, and falls in love with a married man to whom she is only one of many women.

Xuela strives to find an identity and a place for herself in the world, but through all her striving is a dark fatalism which undercuts her: what she describes as a 'bleak, black wind' at her back. This can be read as stemming from her family situation, her community, her gender, and the legacy of colonialism - but it's also simply and matter-of-factly portrayed as just the way this character is, without apologies or excuses.

Is this actually Kincaid's reconstruction of her mother's life, or is the title a reference to the looming absence of the narrator's mother? I'm not sure.
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LibraryThing member tobagotim
Girl growing up in Dominica. relationship to family, particularly mother

Language

Local notes

Signed by author

Barcode

10118
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