For as long as I can remember I regarded Jamaica Kincaid as one of my favorite authors. However, I had the horrific realization that I couldn’t remember any of her works; I couldn’t associate a specific element of literature with her. All I knew for sure was her name sounded like poetry and she is of West Indian descent.
“Annie John” is one of the best stories that I’ve read recently. Kincaid’s ability to make me feel as though I am reading an autobiography of my life — give and take a few details — is refreshing. Not only do I connect to the protagonist and the settings within the story, but also to Kincaid’s writing style. It is an added bonus that Guyana, British Guiana in the book, is acknowledged for its superb gold jewelries a couple of times.
“Annie John” follows its namesake from the age of ten until seventeen. The reader drifts through this journey alongside her, bearing witness to a myriad of complex feelings for her family, friends and surroundings in Antigua. We are drawn in by her adoration for her mother — whose name we find out towards the end of the novel — and then cast aside when contempt comes into the fold. Kincaid explores this idea of loving someone (specifically a girl loving her mother) one moment and rebelling against/hating them the next, seamlessly.
The imagery throughout the book was a beautiful attack on my senses. I clearly saw the pictures Kincaid’s words were creating. It is alluring at times, and causes you to feel disgust at another. We see Annie experimenting with her gal pals, or her dad aging before her eyes; we hear her mother angrily berating her for her disobedience; we smell the food; we feel the sunshine or rain, and the pain. The words captivate the reader at every juncture whilst your imagination fills in any blank spaces.
One of my favorite paragraphs.
Despite the era, 1960s, our exposure to life in Antigua could have easily been set in modern times, and in any number of Commonwealth island/countries. Kincaid balances the laidback island attitude with the people’s hardworking mentality effortlessly. She also brings to the forefront the ongoing battles between relying on science (medicinal purposes) versus relying on one’s belief (religion/obeah).
Whether it be dealing with physical pain or mental illnesses, the way one chooses to go about it is still taboo in many West Indian households, to this day.
By the end of the novel, you find yourself in a confused state as to how you feel about Annie. You are excited for this new journey in her life, feel a glimmer of hope for reconciliation and pity her unforeseeable future.
Kincaid tackles many issues that are frowned upon, but the essence of the story remains a “coming of age” one full of Caribbean culture.
This book is a definite must read.
We are in a time where representation is important for today’s generation and the ones to come. Being a woman, black and South American/West Indian, it was [and still is] difficult finding stories & authors that I could wholly relate to. I truly wish it hadn’t taken me near 29 years to read this novel (I was a baby genius).
All I can do now is use Jamaica Kincaid’s “Annie John” as motivation to get my stories out. Why? Because representation matters.
Have you read any great books lately? Drop the names in the comment section.