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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
5.0 out of 5 stars Zowie! Kincaid sucks readers in again May 2 2003
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
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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5.0 out of 5 stars Incredible Oct. 25 2002
By A Customer
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, but definitely worth it. Also, if you ever have a chance to hear her read, it is amazing, and you will never read her in the same way again.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written. Aug. 30 2002
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 woman that she never met. And thereby a search into herself (well, into the character's self). It's quiet. She even describes ugliness quietly. "I long to meet the thing greater than I am, the thing to which I can submit." I was able to sink into it as I read it, but the book didn't stay with me after I was done.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Rich Aug. 7 2002
By A Customer
Format:Audio Cassette
If you understand the culture of the Caribbean, then you will certainly understand, and enjoy this book. As I read it, I remembered all the intresting characters from my childhood that resembled the characters in The Autobiography of My Mother. Jamica Kincaid's style is so richly descriptive, it takes you "home" again. Xuela is a very strong female character, and although fate has made many of her choices for her, she ultimately takes control of her own destiny. A very good read, as are all her other works.
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3.0 out of 5 stars difficult June 14 2002
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. Xuela father gave her to the woman who washed his clothes, and only visted every now and then. Xuela eventually moved back in with him and his new family only to move again with another family. I throught Xuela was one of the strangest characthers i've ever read about. Her views on things were so strange. The other thing i didn't like about this book, it had no dialouge, which mean a lot of long paragraphs.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Wish it had been longer April 10 2002
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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5.0 out of 5 stars An important book April 11 2001
This book carries an empowering message that every woman can benefit from about embracing one's femaleness and sexuality. It is sad that some readers are frightened and offended (these two emotions go hand-in-hand) by the exploration of the body's potential for pleasure and power; this fear is exactly what Kincaid would like her readers to move away from. Women are taught from early childhood onward that their bodies and sexuality are shameful, but the protagonist in The Autobiography of My Mother teaches us that the body should be celebrated, rather than shunned. This world would be a healthier place if all of us adopted such an attitude.
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