Annie John

Annie John

3.8 45
by Jamaica Kincaid

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Annie John is a haunting and provocative story of a young girl growing up on the island of Antigua. A classic coming-of-age story in the tradition of The Catcher in the Rye and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Kincaid’s novel focuses on a universal, tragic, and often comic theme: the loss of childhood. Annie’s

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Annie John is a haunting and provocative story of a young girl growing up on the island of Antigua. A classic coming-of-age story in the tradition of The Catcher in the Rye and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Kincaid’s novel focuses on a universal, tragic, and often comic theme: the loss of childhood. Annie’s voice—urgent, demanding to be heard—is one that will not soon be forgotten by readers.

An adored only child, Annie has until recently lived an idyllic life. She is inseparable from her beautiful mother, a powerful presence, who is the very center of the little girl’s existence. Loved and cherished, Annie grows and thrives within her mother’s benign shadow. Looking back on her childhood, she reflects, “It was in such a paradise that I lived.” When she turns twelve, however, Annie’s life changes, in ways that are often mysterious to her. She begins to question the cultural assumptions of her island world; at school she instinctively rebels against authority; and most frighteningly, her mother, seeing Annie as a “young lady,” ceases to be the source of unconditional adoration and takes on the new and unfamiliar guise of adversary. At the end of her school years, Annie decides to leave Antigua and her family, but not without a measure of sorrow, especially for the mother she once knew and never ceases to mourn. “For I could not be sure,” she reflects, “whether for the rest of my life I would be able to tell when it was really my mother and when it was really her shadow standing between me and the rest of the world."

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"So touching and familiar it could be happening to any of us . . . and that's exactly the book's strength, its wisdom, its truth."—The New York Times Book Review

"So neon-bright that the traditional story of a young girl's passage into adolescence takes on a shimmering strangeness."—Elaine Kendall, The Los Angeles Times

Product Details

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.80(d)

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For a short while during the year I was ten, I thought only people I did not know died. At the time I thought this I was on my summer holidays and we were living far out on Fort Road. Usually, we lived in our house on Dickenson Bay Street, a house my father built with his own hands, but just now it needed a new roof and so we were living in a house out on Fort Road. We had only two neighbors, Mistress Mayvard and her husband. That summer, we had a pig that had just had piglets; some guinea fowl; and some ducks that laid enormous eggs that mother said were big even for ducks. I hated to eat any food except for the enormous duck eggs, hardboiled. I had nothing to do every day except to feed the birds and the pig in the morning and in the evening. I spoke to one one other than my parents, and sometimes to Mistress Maynard, if I saw her when I went to pick up the peelings of vegetables which my mother had asked her to save for the pig, which was just the thing the pig really liked. From our yard, I could see the cemetery. I did not know it was the cemetery until one day when I said to my mother that sometimes in the evening, while feeding the pig, I could see various small, sticklike figures, some dressed in black, some dressed in white, bobbing up and down in the distance. I noticed, too, that sometimes the black and white sticklike figures appeared in the morning. My mother said that it was probably a child being buried, since children were always buried in the morning. Until then, I had not known that children died.

I was afraid of the dead, as was everyone I knew. We were afraid of the dead because we never could tell when they might show up again. Sometimes they showed up in a dream, but that wasn't so bad, because they usually only brought a warning, and in any case you wake up from a dream. But sometimes they would show up standing under a tree just as you were passing by. Then they might follow you home, and even though they might not be able to come into your house, they might wait for you and follow you wherever you went; in that case, they would never give up until you joined them. My mother knew of many people who had died in such a way. My mother knew of many people who had died, including her own brother.

After I found out about the cemetery, I would stand in my yard and wait for a funeral to come. Some days, there were no funerals. "No one died," I would say to my mother. Some days, just as I was about to give up and go inside, I would see the small specks appear. "What made them so late?" I would ask my mother. Probably someone couldn't bear to see the coffin lid put in place, and so as a favor the undertaker might let things go on too long, she said. The undertaker! On our way into town, we would pass the undertaker's workshop. Outside, a little sign read "Straffee & Sons, Undertakers & Cabinetmakers." I could always tell we were approaching this place, because of the smell of pitch pine and varnish in the air.

Later, we moved back to our house in town, and I no longer had a view of the cemetery. Still no one I knew had died. One day, a girl smaller than I, a girl whose mother was a friend of my mother's, died in my mother's arms. I did not know this girl at all, though I may have got a glimpse of her once or twice as I passed her and her mother coming out of our yard, and I tried to remember everything I had heard about her. Her name was Nalda; she had red hair; she was very bony; she did not like to eat any food. In fact, she liked to eat mud, and her mother always had to keep a strict eye on her to prevent her from doing that. Her father made bricks, and her mother dressed in a way that my father found unbecoming. I heard my mother describe to my father just how Nalda had died: she had a fever, they noticed a change in her breathing, so they called a car and were rushing her off to Dr. Bailey when, just as they were crossing over a bridge, she let out a long sigh and went limp. Dr. Bailey pronouncd her dead, and when I heard that I was so glad he wasn't my doctor. My mother asked my father to make the coffin for Nalda, and he did, carving bunches of tiny flowers on the sides. Nalda's mother wept so much that m ymother had to take care of everything, and since children were never prepared by undertakers, my mother had to prepare the little girl to be buried. I then began to look at my mother's hands differently. They had stroked the dead girl's forehead; they had bathed and dressed her and laid her in the coffin my father had made. My mother would come back from the dead girl's house smelling of bay rum—a scent that for a long time afterward would make me feel ill. For a while, though not for very long, I could not bear to have my mother caress me or touch my food or help me with my bath. I especially couldn't bear the sight of her hands lying still in her lap.

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What People are saying about this

Jamaica Kincaid
"How do I write? Why do I write? What do I write? This is what I am writing: I am writing "Mr Potter." It begins in this way; this is its first sentence: "Mr. Potter was my father, my father's name was Mr. Potter." So much went into that one sentence; much happened before I settled on those 11 words....And then? I grew tired of that sentence and those 11 words just sitting there all alone followed by all that blank space. I grew sad at seeing that sentence and those 11 words just sitting there followed by nothing, nothing and nothing again. After many days it frightened me to see nothing but that one sentence and those 11 words and nothing, nothing and nothing again came after them. "Say something," I said to Mr. Potter."
— Writers on Writing, The New York Times, June 7, 1999

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