Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Autobiography of My Mother” as Want to Read:
The Autobiography of My Mother
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Autobiography of My Mother

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  2,697 ratings  ·  210 reviews
A seventy-year-old West Indian woman looks back over the course of her life and examines the relationships that have given meaning to her existence.
Paperback, 228 pages
Published January 1st 1997 by Plume/Penguin (first published 1996)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Autobiography of My Mother, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
This question contains spoilers… (view spoiler)
Maki Nasreen You are missing the last page...there she explains.

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
3.73  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,697 ratings  ·  210 reviews

Sort order
The lines in this book kept me thinking. Any book that does that is good. It is one to take note of.

The book is supposedly written by a seventy-year-old woman living on the island of Dominica. That is in the Caribbean. SHE is telling us about her life. Her mother, a Carib, died giving birth to her. Her father is half Scottish and half African. Her father sent her to live with his laundress, a mother of six. She was of no more value than a bundle of his dirty laundry. And yet, he did se to her ed
I am way to the left on criminal justice issues and am strongly opposed to capital punishment, but if there is one group of offenders forcing me to reconsider my commitment to the values I hold, it is probably that comprised of people who write in library books. I'd like a grant for a study researching both people who write in library books and people who engage in loud, long cellphone conversations in otherwise quiet and enclosed spaces (e.g., the bus from the Port Authority to Kingston, NY; th ...more
Claire McAlpine
Mar 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Let me say from the outset, I absolutely loved this book, its language, its voice, its poetry, the complexity of its narrator, who could be so distant yet simultaneously get so under your skin. There is a raw but brutal honesty to it, that disturbs and is to be admired at the same time, it is so full of contrasts and so compelling and beats its rhythm so loud, I almost can't describe it.

In the autobiography of my mother, we encounter Xuela Claudette Richardson, who narrates her life looking back
Althea Ann
May 14, 2014 rated it liked it
A somewhat longer and more complex work than the other book I just read by Kincaid, 'Annie John.' Similarly, though, it deals with fraught and complex emotional relationships. Or lack of relationships. The narrator here is a woman, Xuela, whose mother died in childbirth; and who lets that lack define who she is as as person.

Her father is a distant and venal man, and Xuela doesn't think much of him. By necessity, she is essentially on her own. However, as the book progresses, she seeks something(
Doris Jean
Go the page 205 and read the last chapter first, so that you can armor and shield your spirit against a bleak descent into hurt, murder, amorality, lying, poly-abortion, adultery, racism, cruelty, etc.

Uncaring evil life choices will be presented, without any regret, in a bland, mild, dispassionate manner disguised inside a pretend shell of unconcerned indifference. When you can prepare for this book, you can better understand its understated and masked onslaught of darkness and bleakness and to
Aug 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018-reads
I was introduced to Jamaica Kincaid in university with A Small Place. I liked it. I remember being encouraged to read The Autobiography of My Mother but neglected to pick it up. Timing is likely everything as I'm not sure I would have appreciated this book back in my 20's.

I finally picked up this book last weekend and could not put it down. It is so beautifully written, each word measured and strung together with care. Kincaid writes boldly and with such intimacy that the reader feels they are
Jun 15, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Leggere questo libro è come sfogliare l'album dei ricordi di Xuela e della sua famiglia, o meglio di ciò che resta della sua famiglia.
Un album dei ricordi a cui manca solo un tassello, una foto per essere completo.
"Il vento nero e desolato" che soffia alle spalle della protagonista è il riflesso, lo specchio di una vita desolata, una vita in cui la solitudine e il bisogno d'amore dominano.
"Autobiografia di mia madre" è una storia di dolore, di risentimento, di mancanze e di assenze. L'assenza
Jan 29, 2010 rated it it was ok
The blurb on the front of the book from Michiko Kakutani uses the words "incantatory...lyrical" which is an excellent description of Kincaid's prose style. However, the narrator's voice is so lyrical, so distant that to me the book lacked emotional intensity. Xuela, the narrator, observes her life from an emotional remove, analyzing the people around her more as representatives of colonial power relations than as real people. For me her voice was cold and gave me no sense of connection to her or ...more
My mother died at the moment I was born, and so for my whole life there was nothing standing between myself and eternity; at my back was always a bleak, black wind. I could not have known at the beginning of my life that this would be so; I only came to know this in the middle of my life, just at the time when I was no longer young and realized that I had less of some of the things I used to have in abundance and more of some of the things I had scarcely had at all. And this realization of loss ...more
Pedro Casserly
Nov 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: américa-central
Esta buena novela de Jamaica Kincaid tiene una extraña complejidad. Ya el título introduce una duda, al referirse a una supuesta autobiografía de la madre de la autora, quien además, a poco de comenzar aclara que ha hecho estéril su vientre, porque como no ha tenido madre (murió al nacer), tampoco quiere imponer e imponerse hijos.
Xuela es huérfana de madre y tiene un vínculo distante con su ambicioso padre y su nueva familia.Es descendiente de europeos, negros e indígenas lo cual no forma parte
Jan 19, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
What does it mean when a first person story of the life of a woman, defined largely by her sexuality and her quest for identity, is entitled The Autobiography of My Mother ? What does it mean when the narrator's mother dies at the narrator's birth and can only be grasped through the narrator's imagination? What does it mean when the motherless child can not be come a mother herself, not for a lack of fertility, but instead "freeing my womb from burdens I did not want to bear . . .burdens that w ...more
Apr 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: shock-and-awe
Having read the Poisonwood Bible recently, I can't help making a comparison, and it is woefully put to shame by this. Kincaid speaks to the complexities of identity on the rift between conquering and defeated people. Able to contain the sometimes contradictory parts of herself and her history, Xuela, the protagonist, reflects on the circumstances of a life shaped by race, class and gender. She is insightful and thoughtful, and while addressing her life in post-colonial (if it really is post) cir ...more
Hannah Grippo
Jul 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I went through this book in a 12 hr day. Life story of a woman born as her mother dies. It’s black writing, so it is fierce and natural in sensations and actions, but I felt quiet content, enjoying the way the words flowed through. It’s also written by a Caribbean woman and converted Jew (talk about a minority in a minority). It is not something you can read only once. I will read it again. It’s not a plot story (there’s not even dialogue). It’s story of conception of the world and the body you ...more
Feb 08, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Tror nog 2,5 är lite osäker
Sara Hulander
May 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Jag tänkte på den här boken varje minut som jag inte läste den. Är så ledsen över att den är slut, vill bo i Kincaids språk.
Mar 30, 2012 rated it liked it
First let me say that I struggled with what rating to give this book and how to approach a review in general. I feel conflicted. I don’t know if I feel conflicted in regards to my view of this book or if the character and her confliction have affected me.
This book was nothing like I imagined it would be from reading the synopsis on the back of the book. The assumption is that this is a book about a woman whose mother dies giving birth to her and this is a story of her search into who this absen
Aug 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is one of those books I am glad to have read, but I don't know that I'll read it again unless a specific reason arises. It is a very uncomfortable story. Other reviewers have given synopses, so I'll skip that part. The aspect of the book that I found most striking is the way Kincaid makes the personal-is-political trope so seamless. There are moments when, as a reader, I saw the shadow of colonialism out of the corner of my eye, as it were, while Xuela was describing some very intimate mome ...more
Nov 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
When Meursault learns of his mother’s death in Albert Camus’ The Stranger, he is apathetic to say the least. It is this strange detachment from emotion Camus explores in his existential search of meaning and existence. Fifty-four years later Jamaica Kincaid’s Xuela is also confronted with the loss of her mother and regards it with Mersault’s similar apathetic detachment as she states:

“My mother died at the moment I was born, and so for my whole life there was nothing standing between myself and
Aug 21, 2009 rated it it was amazing
About a third of the way through this riveting, beautifully written book (what a stylist!) I began to read it as an allegory--about power, ethnicity, wealth--as well as a personal account of ethnicity and this woman's road to self-invention. Ultimately, this turns out to be how all of us construct identity, and the bogus scaffolding on which we construct it and our lineage. The book is passionate and surprising.
Apr 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book is an excellent example of simple prose that is riddled with double meanings and a subversiveness of colonial impositions/power on a colonized land. It is not a simple coming-of-age novel with sexual nuances but a deeper tale of discovering an irrecoverable identity. Definitely a must read!
Didier Goossens
Nov 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
Another one of the to-read-for-class-shelf; another one of those books which were just not my cup of tea.

By now, I have a pretty sound idea of what kind of literature I will gladly devour; but a psychological journey into one own's psyche, one's own history, present and future, as one grows, female and feminised, sexual and sexualised, human and dehumanised, rigged with lively commemorations of the past, of colonialism and of growing up motherless and distanced by a corrupt figure of a father; n
i was typing this out to a friend on whatsapp and she said i should post this on goodreads, and she's right because i have a terrible memory, so here goes:

thoughts on jamaica kincaid: i read lucy late last year and finished autobiography of my mother last week and i enjoyed lucy more but i'm questioning if that's just because it's more relatable (it's about a young woman emigrating to america). i found autobiography of my mother was quite unpleasant; there's a lot of uncomfortable sex stuff and
Jan 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The impulse to possess is alive in every heart, and some people choose vast plains, some people choose high mountains, some people choose wide seas, and some people choose husbands; I chose to possess myself. (pg 172-173)
Apr 24, 2018 added it
EXCELLENT. I must read more by Kincaid ASAP!
Maja Svensson
Apr 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Språket. Wow. Handling och karaktärer - kraftfullt rakt igenom.
Nneka Onwuzurike
one of the best opening pages I've ever read. gorgeous, poetic language. refreshing syntax. full of sharp insights on a young black woman's relationship to body, sex, motherhood and independence.
Jennifer B.
Jun 17, 2018 rated it liked it
The premise of this book is what drew me to it. The idea of writing an autobiography for a mother you've never met was very intriguing.

What I wasn't drawn to were all the references to body smells. Seriously, this girl constantly has her hands either in her armpits or her crotch and then sniffing them and practically getting high off them. No shame about having spectators, either.

However, some of the insights and the stark, repetitive writing is what kept me going, and won me over in the end.
Deborah Palmer
Apr 01, 2011 rated it it was amazing
The Autobiography of My Mother by Jamaica Kincaid

The key to great writing is great story telling and Jamaica Kincaid is a great storyteller. Her prose is beautiful, spare, blunt, compact and to the point. Her writing cuts you to the heart. Of course I'm biased because I love Jamaica Kincaid. She is one of the best raconteurs ever! So engrossed am I in her storyline that even though I’m eager for the next development I’m saddened by the ever expanding vignettes because I know that the book will e
Sep 14, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: adult
This novel is a how-to manual on diction. The language that Kincaid uses would make anyone stand in awe. Xuela, the main character, struggles with her identity because she lives on an island that has been colonized by the British. She has been told all of her life that she is not as important as the white people that are in charge of her country. Xuela herself is not easy to like. She is inappropriate, brutal, and refuses to love anyone but herself. This book is hard to get through. There is no ...more
Leslie Graff
Apr 26, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is the best of what post-colonial literature can be - hauntingly beautiful and deeply sad. Kincaid's voice is deceptively simple, repeating simple sentences throughout that grow in meaning as you read. The narrator is compelling if not always relatable. She does not love easily or when she is asked to. She does not feel rage either, she simply exists in her own truth. She accepts her fate but also resists it by becoming her own person with her own thoughts that are never given in response t ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
  • Abeng
  • In Another Place, Not Here
  • The Hills of Hebron
  • Myal
  • How to Escape from a Leper Colony
  • Poetics of Relation
  • Who Slashed Celanire's Throat?
  • Separate Roads to Feminism: Black, Chicana, and White Feminist Movements in America's Second Wave
  • The Chosen Place, The Timeless People
  • Bulletproof Diva
  • Pedagogies of Crossing: Meditations on Feminism, Sexual Politics, Memory, and the Sacred
  • M Archive: After the End of the World
  • The Bridge of Beyond
  • Omeros
  • Meatless Days
  • Salt
  • A Xicana Codex of Changing Consciousness: Writings, 2000-2010
  • Familiar Stranger: A Life Between Two Islands
Jamaica Kincaid is a novelist, gardener, and former reporter for The New Yorker Magazine. She is a Professor of Literature at Claremont-McKenna College.
“No matter how happy I had been in the past I do not long for it. The present is always the moment for which I love.” 35 likes
“I was a new person then, I knew things I had not known before, I knew things that you can know only if you have been through what I had just been through.” 30 likes
More quotes…