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Autobiography of My Mother [Paperback]

Jamaica Kincaid
3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Jan. 24 1997
Jamaica Kincaid's novel is the haunting, deeply charged story of a woman's life on the island of Dominica. Xuela Claudette Richardson, daughter of a Carib mother and a half-Scottish, half-African father, grows up in a harsh, loveless world after her mother dies in childbirth. Xuela’s narrative provides a rich, vivid exploration of the Caribbean and the pervasive influence of colonialism. The Autobiography of My Mother is a story of love, fear, loss, and the forging of a character, an account of one woman's inexorable evolution evoked in startling and magical poetry.

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From Amazon

"My mother died at the moment I was born, and so for my whole life there was nothing standing between myself and eternity," writes Jamaica Kincaid in this disturbing, compelling novel set on the island of Dominica. Born to a doomed Carib woman and a Scottish African policeman of increasing swagger and wealth, narrator Xuela spends a lifetime unanchored by family or love. She disdains the web of small and big lies that link others, allowing only pungent, earthy sensuality--a mix of blood and dirt and sex--to move her. Even answering its siren call, though, Xuela never loses sight of the sharp loss that launched her into the world and the doors through which she will take her leave.

From Publishers Weekly

Kincaid's third novel (after Annie John) is presented as the mesmerizing, harrowing, richly metaphorical autobiography of 70-year-old Xuela Claudette Richardson. Earthy, intractably antisocial, acridly introspective, morbidly obsessed with history and identity, conquest and colonialism, language and silence, Xuela recounts her life on the island of Dominica in the West Indies. In Kincaid's characteristically lucid, singsong prose, Xuela traces her evolution from a young girl to an old woman while interrogating the mysteries of her hybrid cultural origins and her parents, who failed to be parents: her mother died during childbirth; her often absent father, a cruel and petty island official, cultivates a veneer of respectability ("another skin over his real skin"), rendering him unrecognizable to his daughter. At 14, Xuela undertakes an affair with one of her father's friends, becomes pregnant and aborts the child. Experiencing that trauma as a rebirth ("I was a new person then"), she inaugurates a life of deliberate infertility, eventually becoming the assistant to a European doctor, whom she later marries. Xuela's Dominica, two generations after slavery, is a "false paradise" of reckless fathers and barren matrilinear relations, of tropical ferment, fecundity, witchcraft and slums, whose denizens resemble the walking dead. With aphoristic solemnity at times evocative of Ecclesiastes, Kincaid explores the full paradoxes of this extraordinary story, which, Xuela concludes, is at once the testament of the mother she never knew, of the mother she never allowed herself to be and of the children she refused to have. 75,000 first printing; major ad/ promo; author tour; translation, first serial, dramatic rights: Wylie, Aitken & Stone.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars A poorly written downer June 18 1998
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
This was the first book by Jamaica Kincaid I have read. If this book is an indication of Ms. Kincaid's other works, it is also likely to be my last. I read the book while vacationing on the island of Dominica, where the book takes place. Dominica is strikingly unique, but I doubt I would have realized this fact solely on the basis of Ms. Kincaid's description of the place, which is so vague that it suggests she has never been to Dominica. But my greater concerns are with Ms. Kincaid as a writer. Throughout the book, she proves herself to be possessed of few literary devices, repetition (for effect?) foremost among them. How many times must we be subjected to descriptions of "saliva leaking from the corner" of a character's mouth, or "the wetness between my legs"? Perhaps there is imagery in the book that only a woman, or a poor woman, or a poor Dominican woman, can understand -- as for me, her repetition added no meaning to the character development or plot. As for the plot, someone should disabuse Ms. Kincaid of her notion that unmitigated misery and psychological negativity are sufficiently engaging to justify the publication of a book. I shall do my best to communicate this to her by not purchasing any other of her products.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Puzzling Jan. 30 1997
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
After all the hype, and comparison to Camus' "The Stranger", I suppose my expectations were high for this book. I found "Autobiography of my Mother" completely benign. In some parts, pointless. Unlike Camus' protagonist in "The Stranger", Xuela's world-view is too fully revealed to be cleverly wrought and too self-perpetuating to cause empathy with the reader. A self-pitying character, Xuela is hard to empathize with because she decries her father and the white "conquerers" for exploiting people and destroying the aboriginal population's culture; yet, Xuela also takes advantage of many -- emotionally and psychologically. Therefore, Xuela just comes across as bitter and codependent and the reader is not compelled to sympathize with her situation. I also found nothing sensual about the book -- the author's placement of masturbation description seemed to come out of nowhere and appears simply awkward. Overally, the book does not deliver compared to the hype
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1.0 out of 5 stars Do I have to give it a star? July 13 2000
Format:Paperback
Even that single star is more than this book is worth. My Engligh professor assigned this book to me during my sophomore year of college (along with Nectar in a Sieve, a far better, though not terrific book), and what little I remember of it was that it was just awful (and offal). Her writing is repetitive and choppy, perhaps descriptive but disgustingly so. Do we really need to know the "wetness between [her] legs", or that she cooked her menstrual fluid into some poor soul's dinner? I couldn't stand the book. If you want quality, read something by Neil Gaiman, or Stephen King (his descriptions of a girl coming of age in Carrie are much better than this book). Drop the book, throw it, burn it, whatever. It's just not worth reading. How many trees did we lose to its production (and, more importantly, how many talented young writers were rejected because this woman was published). It's just a book not worth reading about a story not worth telling.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Zowie! Kincaid sucks readers in again May 2 2003
Format:Paperback
Autobiography of My Mother is a powerful, mesmerizing, and other-worldy tale of Xuela, a woman of Dominica, West Indies, who is a worthy subject for Kincaid's musical cadences and rapturous prose. Boy, can this woman write - and she infuses all her prose with the lilting voices of her compatriots. There's no way to read her work aloud without finding yourself lapsing into the patois, sing-songy style of speech that comes thru so clearly in her writing. This book is a painful tale, the recounting of a difficult life without much love shown to the girl as she grows from motherless infant to strong and bitter young woman who aborts her pregnancy and remains defiant the rest of her life. Raised motherless herself, she determines never to mother others. Taken on a metaphorical level, the woman's story could be the story of Dominica, torn by suffering, racism, power, and the unbreakable bonds that bind them together.
Powerful writing on so, so many levels.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Mixed feelings.. Feb. 17 2003
By Joseph
Format:Hardcover
My feelings are very mixed about this book. There is no doubt that Kincaid has the ability to weave together beautiful and thoughtful moments. However, I had a difficult time staying interested in the book.
I understand the book to be written in the style of the characters history, experiences and misfortunes . A child raised without love, who grows into a woman without the ability to love. Life without love becomes a life filled with philosophical insight on human behavior, love and death.
Overall, the main character's inability to rise above an emotional flat line kept me disconnected, which prevents me from recommending this book with too much enthusiasm. I didn't feel that the character's description of the events matched her bleak emotional landscape.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Wish it had been longer April 10 2002
Format:Paperback
I enjoyed this book very much and I especially liked that the subject matter of the book was unique and unusual.
The main character is not likeable, but yet the reader is drawn into her story and although she is quite wooden, you can feel her pain.
My only criticism of the book is that it would have been better if it had been longer. I would have like to have known more about the characters.
The writing is gorgeous and rich and it is very sensual. I think this is a very good book and I recommend it. It is not a typical read. It is unusual and unnerving in some parts, but I believe it is a true, honest and real portrayl of a woman very emotionally damaged.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Incredible
This is my favorite of Jamaica Kincaid's, which of course is saying a lot. It is simply amazing. More complex and involved than her usual writing, it is a "hard" read,... Read more
Published on Oct. 24 2002
3.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written.
Kincaid shows that she's a talented author. THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MY MOTHER is beautifully written. It's not about her mother at all, but about the search for knowledge about this... Read more
Published on Aug. 30 2002 by MLPlayfair
5.0 out of 5 stars Rich
If you understand the culture of the Caribbean, then you will certainly understand, and enjoy this book. Read more
Published on Aug. 7 2002
3.0 out of 5 stars difficult
When first buying this book I throught it was gonna be about the author's mother. The book is about this girl name Xuela, who's mother died giving birth to her. Read more
Published on June 14 2002 by "July Lady"
5.0 out of 5 stars An important book
This book carries an empowering message that every woman can benefit from about embracing one's femaleness and sexuality. Read more
Published on April 10 2001 by Edythe Johnson-Gallo
1.0 out of 5 stars Worst book I've ever read
This has got to be one of the most depressing books I have ever read. Not depressing in the sense that the tone of the book was depressing (which it was), but depressing in the... Read more
Published on March 23 2000 by Ozlem Ozkaya
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
I had hoped to read a colorful story about life in the Caribbean, and was not expecting the story to be happy and uplifting. Read more
Published on July 31 1999
2.0 out of 5 stars A fast, but mostly unpleasant read
This is the story of an unhappy woman who refuses to see or seek out any joy in her life. The overall feeling of the story is negative and depressing.
Published on Oct. 8 1998
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, Poetic, Distinctive Writing
I loved this book. This is the first Kincaid novel that I've read and I really dig the author's repetitive style of writing. Read more
Published on June 23 1998
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