readingtrance

book reviews by Althea

The Autobiography of my Mother – Jamaica Kincaid ***

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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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