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61 of 63 people found the following review helpful
on December 21, 1998
I have to speak up, because I feel that this book is being unfairly trashed. I stumbled across one of the chapters of this book in a collection, and I was so taken aback that I had to rush out and get the complete novel. I think that that Jamaica Kincaid's writing is so beautiful and poetic that she could be writing about anything and I would read it. But she also tells a very interesting and important story. Xuela is a mixed-race, motherless girl who does not receive love from anyone, and must survive by loving and celebrating her self. Perhaps for those people who have always felt secure in their place in life, and surrounded by love on all sides, Kincaid's book is too harsh and hard to relate to. But for those of us who have had times we when we felt so alone that we literally had to become our own mother and/or our own best friend, Kincaid's novel is a testimony to our experience. A great book.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on January 6, 1999
Having read this title while vacationing in Jamaica, (even though placed in Dominica and the author grew up in Atigua)I was entirely able to understand Xuela. Many children are born out of wedlock, though the fathers still are involved with their children. Xuela is an extreme, but not implausible, case of emotional detachment. Everything in the book, from her father's corruption, to encountering the stevedore during a downpour came to life in my reading experience. Be forewarned, Xuela is not a likeable character, and her physical self-love may be offensive to some readers. But Jamaica Kincaid's blunt and honest portrayal of a hardened woman is undeniably hard to forget.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on May 6, 2000
I think more readers should read this in context of Jamaica Kincaid's own personal life, especially regarding her torn relationship with her mother. It would then become extremely touching, as Kincaid really writes this to save her own living. While other reviewers have found this book to be harsh or dirty in some sense, we should gain the sense that this narrator is really at a loss for love, that there is so little to love, but was able to find love in herself.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Jamaica Kincaid's work always provokes sentiment for me. As a fellow Caribbean native, she describes some deep darks truths about people. . .truths that are consistent only among Caribs as they are influenced by thier social and cultural norms.In this novel, the mother's character, at parts, seemed much like my own mother: Having a dream of a better existence, but having it crushed by a woman whose dreams have also been diminished. And thus, a vicious cycle within a society of women who never seem to truly live; instead, only exist to raise other crushed little girls to yield even more unfulfilled woman.

Don't look for any made-up or whimsical fantasies here. You will find yourself precisely where little secrets lie. . .in places you will only visit by way of Kincaid's chariot.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on February 17, 2003
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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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on November 15, 2001
The Autobiography of My Mother is not an autobiography at all, and it is not even solely about a mother. It is actually a novel about a woman whose mother died when she was being born. This first life event, which is also the first event the narrator tells the reader about in the story, is a powerful force that shapes the narrator's life.
Not only does narrator (Xuela) not have a mother, but she feels that she does not actually have a country, a homeland. She lives on the island of Antigua, which is only twelve miles long and nine miles long. The culture of her people was stolen by their English colonizers, and the only culture they now know is that of England.
In my opinion, there are times in the book when the narrator is self-pitying and repetitive. I do think, however, that this is in keeping with her character. The book is written as if Xuela is sitting down with the reader and telling him or her her life story, and Xuela would definitely be a character who would repeat and overemphasize the bad parts just so the person listening would get the point.
I also found fault with the narrator because she was very hyprocritical. She critized her father's actions and attitude about life, but then she acted in simliar ways and had a simliar attitude. The one positive aspect about the main character is that she is a very strong woman who is not afraid to deviate from her society's acceptable ways of behaving.
I was surprised that I liked this book so much when I did not like the narrator. I think it is because Kincaid had such an integrity when it came to writing about the main character. She presented all aspects, positive and negative, and didn't only show her in a good light. All aspiring authors can learn a lesson in characterization from reading this book.
Kincaid's writing style is very seductive. It pulls you in and makes you not want to get away. I read this book in two long settings because I didn't want to put it down. She has a powerful way of describing people, places, and situations. Her prose is lyrical and truthful - after reading a passage, I wanted to sit back and think about it for awhile, because there was so much truth and beauty to be found in it.
This is the first book I have read by Jamaica Kincaid. I am presently reading "A Small Place", and hope to read the rest of her books in the future. I would recommend this book to anyone, but especially to writers who are interested in reading very high quality writing with strong charactarization and powerful description.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon February 5, 1998
It is difficult to rate Autobiography of My Mother fairly; Jamaica Kincaid has written excellent books - At the Bottom of the River, Lucy . . . - and this book is only well above average. Were my expectations not so high, the things that are right about the book would stand out more against the portions that don't work. She is at her best when portraying the inability to love and the bitterness at the colonialist religion. However, there are points in the story where the political portrayal of victor vs. vanquished becomes a polemic out of character of the protagonist. A good book that is well worth reading - but is probably more enjoyable if you have read Annie John, Lucy or One Small Place so that the political polemic fits the reader's growing knowledge of the author rather than simply being an element less adroitly handled in this particular book.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
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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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 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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