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At the Bottom of the River [Hardcover]

Jamaica Kincaid
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Dec 1 1983
Jamaica Kincaid's inspired, lyrical short stories

Reading Jamaica Kincaid is to plunge, gently, into another way of seeing both the physical world and its elusive inhabitants. Her voice is, by turns, naively whimsical and biblical in its assurance, and it speaks of what is partially remembered partly divined. The memories often concern a childhood in the Caribbean--family, manners, and landscape--as distilled and transformed by Kincaid's special style and vision.

Kincaid leads her readers to consider, as if for the first time, the powerful ties between mother and child; the beauty and destructiveness of nature; the gulf between the masculine and the feminine; the significance of familiar things--a house, a cup, a pen. Transfiguring our human form and our surroundings--shedding skin, darkening an afternoon, painting a perfect place--these stories tell us something we didn't know, in a way we hadn't expected.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Kincaid's first collection focuses on a nameless, blossoming Caribbean girl. According to PW , "The voice--incantatory, lyric, rhapsodic--is closer to the condition of poetry and music than to fiction in any of its ordinary registers."
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Jamaica Kincaid was born in St. John's, Antigua. Her books include At the Bottom of the River, Annie John, Lucy, The Autobiography of My Mother, and My Brother. She lives with her family in Vermont.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Love, sadness, and growing up in the Caribbean May 2 2004
Jamaica Kincaid's AT THE BOTTOM OF THE RIVER is a study of voice and language that first brought the author recognition beyond the pages of literary journals. These ten stories, all but the last extremely short, are set in an intense Caribbean landscape where a girl comes of age in the shadow of her mother; they are hallucinatory, tense, and indirect, leaving much for the reader to interpret. For example, the first story, "Girl", is a monologue spoken by the mother giving advice ("this is how you set a table for dinner") interspersed with comments degrading the daughter. The two italicized, one-sentence responses from the daughter speak volumes about this complicated relationship. "What I Have Been Doing Lately" is a dream-like narrative that lists what the narrator is (probably not) doing and, in the process, illustrates the emotional state of someone so sad that she just wants to lie in bed. "At the Bottom of the River", the final, longest, and most traditional of the stories, implies the past and future of the narrator through visions seen "at the bottom of the river."
Kincaid's style combines the effect of the simple but perfect word with the lilt of Caribbean rhythms. On the surface, these stories are not difficult to read, but they can be challenging to understand for the reader accustomed to more traditional methods of storytelling. The collection is about as short as a book can get, and so the stories can be read in one sitting, back to back, although their absorption can take much longer.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Genius Mind April 5 2004
At the Bottom of the River is a lovely rendition of a writer's mind, leisure, vision, appeal, hope, awareness and understanding. This project surpasses what the common reader readies for in the telling of a good story. Each sentence in this work is a story. I will write it again: Each sentence is a story with perfect images, "The branches were dead; a fly hung dead on the branches, its fragile body fluttering in the wind as if it were remnants of a beautiful gown." Ms. Kincaid's style throughout At the Bottom might put one in the mind of Gertrude Stein. The repetition. Certainly, however, Ms. Kincaid's project is her own, very distinctive genius. It takes us to a place that lacks anything hackneyed and it is shaped with qualities that peck at our curiousity. The book works in first person and third person never conveniently laying the story out as a consecutive. But there are characters; there is a central character to follow. The movement is chopped with these extraordinary, brilliant images beyond description and most every sentence leaves on the tongue the question of "who did that?" or "why?": "Someone is making a basket, someone is making a girl a dress or a boy a shirt, someone is making her husband a soup with cassava so that he can take it to the cane field tomorrow, someone is making his wife a beautiful mahogany chest, someone is sprinkling a colorless powder outside a closed door so that someone else's child will be stillborn." And so you get these incredible juxtapositions along side wholesome chops of fascinating imagery. We move through childhood, through relationships, through friendships, through parents and through self. And there is even dialogue for the reader who whines that there is no plot.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Lovely Dec 19 2003
Kincaid's stories have a distinct voice and accent, which perpetuate the subversion of standard rules prescribed by centres of authority. She appropriates that authority, by indulging in a style of writing which is unique (the two page sentences) and the inversion of punctuation and syntax canons. Her plotless stories describe a state of being which is fractured, which has no beginning or an end, which is struggling to come to terms with its marginalized existence in terms of race, color, gender and economic status. Being an immigrant in USA, the nameless character's struggle for self-definition, identity, and a truncated and oppressed past transfigure powerfully in this collection. The sense of dislocation encountered in her journey to America, the traveling from the Carribean to a new country, a new culture and discourse in which she must chart her own path towards self-discovery, enlightenment out her 'blackness', the assertion of her 'girl'hood, can only be relocated in vague forms 'at the bottom of the river'.
Effectively disruptive, beautiful, introspective and soulful. Read this book if you are colored or an immigrant. Read this book even if your aren't colored or an immigrant. You'll love it.
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1.0 out of 5 stars At the bottom of the River, a review by Dylan April 23 2001
By A Customer
At the Bottom of the river isn't, in my perspective, a very good book. I gave it one star. I gave it one star because there isn't really a plot, main character (at least with a name), and it is boring. The book is sort of written in a mix between the first person and third person perspectives. The book is hard to understand, especially with 2 two page long sentences! The book kind of seems like it is someone thinking, with no real reason. It skips from one place to another in one chapter. It is hard to get into the story, and since there is no plot, there is little suspense. All in all, it isn't a very good book, and I don't recommend it.
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