A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid
Everyone, please stop whatever you are doing and go read Jamaica Kincaid's essay A Small Place!
This is a work about colonialism, an indictment of tourism, a critique of the Antiguan government and above all a brilliant piece of writing. Kincaid addresses the reader directly, starts by setting the scene and painting a picture of the Small Place she writes about. Imagine you are a tourist on an airplane about to land on this Caribbean island. Think about the natural beauty you see, and the holiday ahead of you - a vacation from worrying, thinking.
Kincaid describes the Antigua she grew up in and the Antigua you - the tourist - will find today, showing you the impact of British colonialism on the island and its people. As you sit in the taxi which takes you from the airport to your hotel, many questions might arise about the state of the buildings you see, such as the hospital the Antiguan Health Minister would never get treatment in (he would fly to New York if he needed a doctor), or the state of the people that pass you by, but you won't linger on these questions. You are on your well-deserved holiday after all. You can look away from the issues presented to you.
Only you can't. Because Jamaica Kincaid is there. While she wraps all of her very explicit criticism in parentheses, so as not to disturb your vacation, the You she addresses us with is bursting with accusation. It is aggressive and direct, but also full of self-awareness and a sense of responsibility. Instead of offending you, overwhelming you and keeping you from reading, the way Kincaid involves the reader in her writing creates a kind of intimacy. We are all in this world together. Let's all face our position in it, Europeans and Antiguans alike.
Her writing draws you in, incredibly fluent as it is, there is little you can do but surrender. Surrender to her words, her critiques, her truths. And then - when you emerge from these eighty pages of powerful writing about the obscenities of mass tourism and the crimes of colonialism - catch your breath, grab a pen, read it once more and take notes! Because colonialism is not a big and abstract system, it is not a period in our history books. It is still very much alive, shaping our relations with knowledge, places and above all the people we share this planet with.