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The Autobiography of My Mother

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  3,351 ratings  ·  270 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 January 1st 1996)
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Oct 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: jamaica-kincaid
Who am I?

Am I the sum of my family's biological and social imprint on myself, or am I what is left after subtracting that sum from the total of me?

Jamaica Kincaid writes a compelling autobiography of a fictitious character's mother, who died at the birth of the narrator and yet had such strong influence on her life. How do we play with the cards we are dealt? Do we even know the rules of the various card game(s) we (un)engage in? Why does it seem we always have fewer cards than we need, and no
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
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(
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
Nov 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
Jamaica Kincaid is a poet.
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
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
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
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
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
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 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
What a ride.. lol this was such a good novel... the best book a lecturer have ever assigned to read
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
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. ...more
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!
Nneka Onwuzurike
Mar 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
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
Aug 27, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: caribbean-lit
“I also knew the history of an array of people I would never meet. That in itself should not have kept me from knowing of them; it was only that this history of peoples that I would never meet—Romans, Gauls, Saxons, Britons, the British people—had behind it a malicious intent: to make me feel humiliated, humbled, small. Once I had identified and accepted this malice directed at me, I became fascinated with this expression of vanity: the perfume of your own name and your own deeds is intoxicating ...more
Oct 20, 2017 rated it liked it
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
Aug 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
I really appreciated this novel and was torn between a 5-star rating and a 4-star rating. It was beautifully written. Almost a narrative poem with wisps of so many intersectional threads it made my heart hurt. Beautiful writing that would sweep me up, then land me with a THUD as the reality of otherness smacked the protagonist. The toggle between my impressions was perhaps about my sadness in reading this novel. Sadness for humanity, for the character, for her story is an account of necessary re ...more
Mar 06, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The last part dragged on a little bit too much for my liking, but overall one of the most interesting books I’ve read in uni for sure.

Kincaid’s prose is fascinating, dripping with irony, symbolism, and powerful metaphors. I have a feeling some of the quotes I’ve highlighted during my reading will stick with me. Overall, a really fascinating, but also haunting postcolonial narrative.
Feb 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
3.5 to be exact. :)

I thought this was about her mother but it really is about HER and how the absence of her mother shaped her life. I didn't know this was her story until the end, and it was a relief for many reasons I will not name at this time. Great book.
Apr 24, 2018 added it
EXCELLENT. I must read more by Kincaid ASAP!
May 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Devastating and beautiful, makes me want to read more Kincaid.
La La
Jun 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
4.5 the the blog.

This is an incredibly insightful story about the effects of childhood experiences on adult life and our expectations of ourselves. It also sends a powerful message about the organic grounding of the female psyche and sexuality. The historical setting of Dominica and the connected themes of culture, white entitlement, and colonialism were almost secondary to the psychological musings in this book.

I read this for the 2020 #CaribAThon read-a-thon, hosted by Runwright Reads.
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Jamaica Kincaid is a novelist, gardener, and former reporter for The New Yorker Magazine. She is a Professor of Literature at Claremont-McKenna College.

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