Mr. Potter: A Novel [NOOK Book]

Overview



The story of an ordinary man, his century, and his home: “Kincaid’s most poetic and affecting novel to date” (Robert Antoni, The Washington Post Book World)

Jamaica Kincaid’s first obssession, the island of Antigua, comes vibrantly to life under the gaze of Mr. Potter, an illiterate taxi chauffeur who makes his living along the roads that pass through the only towns he has ever seen and the graveyard where ...
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Mr. Potter: A Novel

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Overview



The story of an ordinary man, his century, and his home: “Kincaid’s most poetic and affecting novel to date” (Robert Antoni, The Washington Post Book World)

Jamaica Kincaid’s first obssession, the island of Antigua, comes vibrantly to life under the gaze of Mr. Potter, an illiterate taxi chauffeur who makes his living along the roads that pass through the only towns he has ever seen and the graveyard where he will be buried. The sun shines squarely overhead, the ocean lies on every side, and suppressed passion fills the air.
Ignoring the legacy of his father, a poor fisherman, and his mother, who committed suicide, Mr. Potter struggles to live at ease amid his surroundings: to purchase a car, to have girlfriends, and to shake off the encumbrance of his daughters—one of whom will return to Antigua after he dies and tell his story with equal measures of distance and sympathy.

In Mr. Potter, Kincaid breathes life into a figure unlike any other in contemporary fiction, an individual consciousness emerging gloriously out of an unexamined life.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The novelist known for her vivid and often harrowing depictions of women coming of age in impoverished tropical settings turns her attention to a male protagonist with Mr. Potter, a luminous portrait of an ordinary, illiterate man, his century, and his island home.
From The Critics
In three acclaimed novels, Annie John, Lucy and The Autobiography of My Mother, Jamaica Kincaid has examined the bonds between mothers and daughters. They're stories of heartbreak and bitterness that possess a hard, crystalline beauty.That beauty is largely one of language: Kincaid is a fierce, idiosyncratic stylist, piling up emphatic sentences to achieve a mesmerizing poetry. Susan Sontag, Salman Rushdie and the poet Derek Walcott are among her admirers. They see her as a truth-teller who moves beyond conventional storytelling and its pleasures (plot, character development, incident) toward writing that prizes an absolute, unadorned honesty.

Ever since she made her name with stories published in The New Yorker in the late '70s, Kincaid has never tried hard to win over readers. Whether penning nonfiction about her native West Indies, as in the brilliant diatribe A Small Place, or turning out incantatory and angry fiction, Kincaid doesn't strive to entertain. Reading her, like listening to the thorniest of jazz, is not always easy.

Mr. Potter, her new novel about a father and daughter, is her most difficult fiction yet. The book is astonishing and baffling, infuriating and gorgeous. On the island of Antigua, Kincaid's birthplace and the setting of all of her fiction, Mr. Potter lives seventy unremarkable years. He casts no shadows, forms attachments to no one, doesn't even acknowledge many of the daughters he fathers out of wedlock. One such daughter, Elaine, tells his story, and it's her story, too—of loss, alienation and anger. Toward the novel's end, she mourns their lifelong separation. "And he left my life thenforever, his back disappearing through the door of the house in which I lived, his back disappearing up the street on which stood the house in which I lived; and his appearance was like his absence, leaving my surface untroubled, causing not so much as the tiniest ripple, leaving only an empty space inside that is small when I am not aware of its presence and large when I am."

In this audacious novel, we're given a main character with whom it's nearly impossible to sympathize. There's precious little action and less dialogue. Even synopsizing the story is tough. A chauffeur, Mr. Potter drives all day under the blazing Caribbean sun; he hardly interacts with his employer, Mr. Shoul, a cipher from "Lebanon or Syria or someplace near there." Very briefly, Potter's life haphazardly intersects with those of a husband and wife in exile from World War II. We learn a little of his father, a Hemingwayesque fisherman disappointed by the sea. We learn a bit less about the women with whom he produces offspring. He breathes; he dies.

And yet Kincaid does manage to summon up in us a genuine pathos for the man and, more so, his daughter. The author does this with word torrents that build and crest, plunging us mercilessly into the emptiness of Potter's life. The book begins, for example, with a 150-word sentence, of which a short excerpt captures the tone: "And that day, the sun was in its usual place, up above and in the middle of the sky, and it shone in its usual way so harshly bright, making even the shadows pale, making even the shadows seek shelter; that day the sun was in its usual place, up above and in the middle of the sky...." Again and again, Kincaid hammers thusly away. If the reader gives in, he or she may emerge—exhausted, but with some sense of the emotional constriction, the oppression, the weariness of these characters' lives.

In an interview with Mother Jones in 1997, Kincaid insisted, "I feel it's my duty to make everyone a little less happy." She's a provocateur, an upsetter, a writer who issues a wake-up call: Everything is not just fine. A lyrical engineer, Kincaid blends the personal and political (Potter is less an individual than a symbol of colonial oppression) with fiction and memoir (before she became Jamaica Kincaid in 1973, she was Elaine Potter Richardson; that her novel's narrator shares the name only underscores Kincaid's artful confusion).

Torn from Antigua at seventeen and apprenticed as an au pair in New York, Kincaid published her first book, the story collection At the Bottom of the River, in 1983. Now she lives in Bennington, Vermont, with her husband, a composer, and she teaches at Harvard. It's a far cry from the poverty of her island beginnings. Still, throughout her career she's sounded a keynote of defiance, one whose source is always Antigua, her parents' abandonment and the legacy of colonial shame. Mr. Potter is yet one more piece of this dissonant music. It unsettles and it seethes. Yet within it there is a kind of incandescence, a certain beauty, a strange fascination with cruelty and pain.

Publishers Weekly
Kincaid follows up My Brother and Autobiography of My Mother with another unsentimental, unsparing meditation on family and the larger forces that shape an individual's world. The novel follows the life of one man, Mr. Potter, from his birth to his death (not necessarily in that order) on the Caribbean island of Antigua. Mr. Potter, a native Antiguan of African descent, works as a chauffeur for a Mideastern immigrant and then for himself. His world is full of displaced persons a client who is a Holocaust refugee, a lover from the island of Dominica but Mr. Potter gives no thought to his own displacement or the events in the wider world that have brought these people together. In fact, he doesn't think about very much besides securing creature comforts; at the book's opening, he is unreflective and unselfconscious "between him and all that he saw there was no distance of any kind." But what seems like a conventional narrative about a man's coming to consciousness becomes something quite different as the reader gradually gets to know the book's narrator, one of Mr. Potter's many illegitimate daughters, who slowly reveals her relationship to her father and whose voice comes to dominate the story. As in her previous books, Kincaid has exquisite control over her narrator's deep-seated rage, which drives the story but never overpowers it and is tempered by a clear-eyed sympathy. Her prose here is more incantatory and hypnotic than ever, with repeating phrases ("And that day, the sun was in its usual place, up above and in the middle of the sky, and it shone in its usual way, so harshly bright...") that can occasionally seem mannered. This, however, is a relatively rare occurrence in an otherwise taut and often spellbinding novel. (May) Forecast: After a number of pleasing but peripheral nonfiction projects (My Garden (Book): and Talk Stories), Kincaid returns to fiction. With My Brother (a memoir) and Autobiography of My Mother (a novel), Mr. Potter forms a kind of loose, autobiographical family series and should win the same acclaim and interest as its predecessors. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In this latest from the author of The Autobiography of My Mother, the narrator composes a (hi)story to discover and describe her biological father, an illiterate taxi chauffeur in Antigua whom she does not know. Rhythmic and lilting, her speech patterns beautifully capture the sorrow and indifference of Antigua and of Mr. Potter himself. Starting with Mr. Potter's own fisherman father and then moving on to his various employers and the women in his life, the fictive genealogy is at once incomplete, indifferent, vivid, and as complex as the workings of one of Mr. Potter's cars: thousands of different movements repeating themselves but moving forward the hulking motion of history and family. For the daughter, this is a narrative of atonement; to say her father's name and to "imagine his life at the same time makes him whole and complete, not singular and fragmented." Like Kincaid's previous works, Mr. Potter is full of disillusion; the narrator sees through the world to the paradox at its center, acknowledging a dialectic in which "your joy is your sorrow, your joy has not turned to sorrow, your joy was always your sorrow." The result is vivid and affecting reading. Recommended for all fiction collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/15/02.] Lyle D. Rosdahl, San Antonio P.L. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An ambitious but often sententious attempt to link the story of a tropical island Everyman to great events of the era. The mood is somber, and the theme—the belief that the world is indifferent and life essentially sad ("for its glorious beginnings end and the end is always an occasion for sadness, no matter what anyone says")—may be depressing but it's certainly valid. Which makes for a downer of a book as Elaine Cynthia, a writer, tells the uneventful story of her father, called Mr. Potter throughout, who was born in 1922 and died 70 years later, facts that Elaine repeats . . . and repeats . . . as she does most details. The intention may be to create an incantatory rhythm paralleling the continuous ebb and flow of life itself, but the effect, unfortunately, is tiresome. Like her father, Elaine is illegitimate, one of many daughters Mr. Potter fathered on the island of Antigua. He was the illegitimate son of Nathaniel Potter, fisherman, and a sixteen-year-old girl, who, when he was five, gave him to another couple, Mr. and Mrs. Shepherd, then walked into the sea and drowned. The Shepherds were cold and distant, but Mr. Shepherd did teach Mr. Potter how to drive, a skill later turned into a lifetime job as a chauffeur. Mr. Potter works for Mr. Shoul, a Lebanese businessman who fled from Damascus, and he also meets Dr. Weizenger, a Jewish refugee from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia who sets up a medical practice These men's lives suggest a wider world beyond Mr. Potter's, but the illiterate chauffeur is more interested in women—Elaine's mother, an assistant to Dr Weizenger, is one of his numerous conquests—than in international events. Elaine describes her brief childhood encounter with herfather, his grave, and observes "how ordinary is the uniqueness of life as it appears in each individual." Disappointingly, too labored and self-conscious to achieve its ends.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374706166
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 7/16/2003
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 144
  • Sales rank: 1,332,807
  • File size: 179 KB

Meet the Author



Jamaica Kincaid’s most recent book is Talk Stories (FSG, 2001), a volume of her New Yorker writings. In 2000 she was awarded the Prix Fémina Étranger for My Brother (FSG, 1997). She lives in Vermont with her family.
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Read an Excerpt


  Mr. Potter
And that day, the sun was in its usual place, up above and in the middle of the sky, and it shone in its usual way so harshly bright, making even the shadows pale, making even the shadows seek shelter; that day the sun was in its usual place, up above and in the middle of the sky, but Mr. Potter did not note this, so accustomed was he to this, the sun in its usual place, up above and in the middle of the sky; if the sun had not been in its usual place, that would have made a great big change in Mr. Potter’s day, it would have meant rain, however briefly such a thing, rain, might fall, but it would have changed Mr. Potter’s day, so used was he to the sun in its usual place, way up above and in the middle of the sky. Mr. Potter breathed in his normal way, his heart was beating in its normal way, up and down underneath the covering of his black skin, up and down underneath his white knitted cotton vest next to his very black skin, up and down underneath his plainly woven white cotton shirt that was on top of the knitted cotton vest which lay next to his skin; so his heart breathed in its normal way. And he put on his trousers and in the pocket of his trousers he placed a white handkerchief; and all this was as normal as the way his heart beat; all this, his putting on his clothes in just that way, as normal as the way his heart beat, the heart beating normally and the clothes reassuring to Mr. Potter and to things beyond Mr. Potter, things that did not know they needed such reassurance.Walking to Mr. Shoul’s garage to begin his day of sitting in Mr. Shoul’s car and taking passengers to and fro, to and fro (he was a chauffeur, he did not mind being a chauffeur), Mr. Potter took shelter from the sun by walking through narrow streets and alleys. He saw a dog, her breasts distended and swollen, her stomach distended and swollen, lying in the shade of a tree native to some of the dry vast plains of Africa, but he did not think that this dog, pregnant and weary from carrying her pups, seeking shelter from that sun, was a reflection of any part of him, not even in the smallest way; and Mr. Potter saw a man sitting in his doorway and this man was blind but his ears were most sensitive to the sounds of footsteps coming toward him or footsteps going away from him, and when he heard the sounds of feet coming toward him he got ready to beg the owner of the footsteps for money; this man knew the sound of Mr. Potter’s footsteps and he had never asked the owner of those footsteps for anything of any kind. And seeing the blind man sitting in the doorway with his beggar’s cup, seeing the blind man expelling into the ground a mouthful of the thick, sticky white phlegm that had slowly gathered in his throat, Mr. Potter did not think that any part of him was reflected in this sight before him. Going toward Mr. Shoul’s garage, Mr. Potter saw a boy going to school, he saw most of the garments one family owned hanging on a string of wire, being dried in that way. He saw a woman smoking a cigarette, he smelled the stink coming from some gray-colored liquid that lay stagnant in the gutter, he saw some birds sitting on a fence, and none of this reminded him of himself in any way and that was only because everything he saw was so closely bound to him; between him and all that he saw there was no distance of any kind. And so Mr. Potter entered Corn Alley and walked down it and then left it altogether, and Mr. Potter turned onto Nevis Street and he was then at Mr. Shoul’s garage. Mr. Shoul was not there and did not need to be. And on the day Mr. Potter met Dr. Weizenger the sun was in its usual place, up above and in the middle of the sky, shining in its usual way, so harsh and bright, and making the shadows pale and making the shadows themselves seek shelter and causing Mr. Potter to make his way to Mr. Shoul’s garage through a passage of narrow alleys and shaded backstreets; on such a day Mr. Potter met Dr. Weizenger.In Mr. Shoul’s garage there were three cars and these cars all belonged to Mr. Shoul, but Mr. Shoul himself was not in the garage with his cars. Mr. Shoul was upstairs in his own house above the garage where the three cars were, and Mr. Shoul by then, that is by the time Mr. Potter arrived in the garage where there were the three cars, had eaten eggs and oat porridge and bread that had been buttered and cheese and had drunk cups of Lyons tea and had said unkind things in an unkind way to a woman who washed his family’s clothes and then said unkind things in an unkind way to the woman who had just made his breakfast. These two women were in no way related to him, he did not know them at all, they, like Mr. Potter, were the people he had lived among since leaving that place so far away, the Lebanon or Syria, someplace like that, barren and old. And in the Lebanon or Syria, that old, barren place, Mr. Shoul’s breakfast would not have been like this, abundant and new (the eggs had been laid just the day before and the entire breakfast was warm and carefully cooked), but Mr. Shoul could adjust to anything and did adjust to everything as it came his way, and many things came his way, good and bad, and he stayed when it was good and left soon after things got bad. But now things were good and Mr. Shoul stayed at his breakfast, for Mr. Potter was in the garage, wiping down the cars, starting with the one he, Mr. Potter, would drive that day, the one he drove every day, and then wiping down the car that his friend Mr. Martin would drive and then wiping down the car Mr. Joseph would drive. Mr. Joseph was not a friend of Mr. Potter’s, Mr. Joseph was only an acquaintance.And on that day Mr. Potter drove Mr. Shoul’s car to the jetty to await a large steamer coming from some benighted place in the world, someplace far away where there had been upheavals and displacements and murder and terror. Mr. Potter was not unfamiliar with upheavals and displacements and murder and terror; his very existence in the world in which he lived had been made possible by such things, but he did not dwell on them and he could not dwell on them any more than he could dwell on breathing. And so Mr. Potter met Dr. Weizenger.And who was Dr. Weizenger? And just who could answer that question accurately, or who could answer that question with any completeness? No one, really, not the same person who could give an accurate account of any single human being on this earth and all that they might be made of. Dr. Weizenger could not give an accurate account of himself, for an accurate account of himself would overwhelm him. But the man named Dr. Weizenger met Mr. Potter on that day, a day like most of Mr. Potter’s days: the sun was in the middle of the sky long before midday, and then long after it was midday, so time, as it might be measured by Dr. Weizenger and known to Dr. Weizenger, had a different meaning to Mr. Potter; this was not their first misunderstanding, this was only one of many. Dr. Weizenger was in a new place, but for so many years now Dr. Weizenger was constantly in a new place. For three hundred years he and all that he came from lived in that place once called Czechoslovakia, he and all that he came from lived in its villages, its towns, its cities, its capital, its provinces, and then, without notice, he and all he came from could not live in Czechoslovakia or its environs anymore. And so Dr. Weizenger had been here, there, and everywhere, and now he was in front of Mr. Potter and this would be his final place, his place of rest, which might account for his hatred and lack of sympathy for Mr. Potter (and all who looked like Mr. Potter).This sentence should begin with Dr. Weizenger emerging, getting off the launch that has brought him from his ship which is lying in the deep part of the harbor, but this is Mr. Potter’s life and so Dr. Weizenger must never begin a sentence; I am not making an authorial decision, or a narrative decision, I only say this because it is so true: Mr. Potter’s life is his own and no one else should take precedence. And so this sentence, this paragraph, will begin in this way:When Mr. Potter first saw Dr. Weizenger, Mr. Potter was thinking of a woman, her name was Yvette, who had just died while giving birth to Mr. Potter’s first child, a girl named Marigold; this name Marigold was given to the little girl by Yvette’s relatives and it had no significance to them whatsoever and it had nothing at all to do with Mr. Potter, he had not had much to do with Yvette in the first place. And when Mr. Potter thought of this woman, Yvette, who had just given birth to his first child with the name of Marigold, he was not thinking of how the world was filled with happiness, he was not thinking of the golden glow that transformed the world when it had first been born, its new light thick with transparency, its wonder, its mystery, its never-to-be-knownness, its frustrations which would lead to anger and how that anger would lead to a blankness and how it was that in such blankness he, Mr. Potter, existed. When Mr. Potter first saw Dr. Weizenger, his very thoughts, the words that came out of his mouth, were “Mr. Shoul sent me” or “Me ah come from Shoul’s.” And Mr. Potter saw Dr. Weizenger and Dr. Weizenger saw Mr. Potter. And Dr. Weizenger was not thinking of all that he had left behind, not the thousands of years, not the hundreds of years, not even the last moments that were now something called history, he was not thinking of anything really, not even his own present unhappiness, not even the wound in his stomach caused by the turmoil of the world bearing down on the softness beneath the skin covering his belly, causing his mind to go blank at one moment and then the next moment to be filled with images of a childhood so comfortable, and that comfort was an irritation. “Dr. Weizenger,” said Dr. Weizenger, releasing his own name into the warm air. Potter, said Mr. Potter to no one but himself. Such a dead man, thought Mr. Potter to himself when he saw Dr. Weizenger (’E dead, ’e dead). Such stupidity, thought Dr. Weizenger to himself when he met Mr. Potter, so much ignorance. And Mr. Potter was ignorant of Dr. Weizenger’s ways, for Mr. Potter could not read, and so when Dr. Weizenger asked him to remove his bags from all of the other bags that had been removed from the great big ship and placed in the launch and which were now just lying on the floor of the jetty, Mr. Potter was still. What to do? said Mr. Potter, but only to himself, and he smiled at Dr. Weizenger. The sea, the sea, the sea that was so vast, so vast, and vast again, lay in front of them, Mr. Potter and Dr. Weizenger, and for both of them it held such peril, such dark memories. On Dr. Weizenger’s suitcase were the words “Singapore” and “Shanghai” and “Sydney,” but Mr. Potter could not read and so did not know what they meant. And on Mr. Potter’s face was written “Africa” and “Europe,” but Dr. Weizenger had never had to and would never be able (as it turned out) to read the language in which these words were written. And so standing on the jetty and wondering not at the fact that he was alive, but at the fact that something so incomprehensible as Mr. Potter was standing in front of him, and that strange sun which shone without mercy, and was that the same sea, did it have the same name, and had it followed him after taking him to and from the shores of Greece, Singapore, Shanghai, and Sydney (those were only the ports that had taken him in). Dr. Weizenger almost died just then, he almost fell apart like a badly made piece of furniture, the glue not properly applied, but his wife May (and that was her name, May) came and said, “Well!” and she was from England, even better, she was from that thing called the British Empire, and Mr. Potter understood her English and the tone of voice in which she spoke it.And there was the sea Dr. Weizenger had just left behind, his back was turned to it and there was the sea Mr. Potter had so long ago left behind, and yet each day that sea defined his life over and over again. Mr. Potter’s father had been a fisherman and he had died after cursing the sea for disappointing him, and none of Mr. Potter’s brothers, ten of them, had become fishermen. For Mr. Potter was afraid of the sea and then he hated the sea, so much water it was, so much nothing, and that nothing was only water. Mr. Potter longed to feel superior to the sea, he longed to feel superior to something that had such power over him. His mother had by then died. And, having lived deep in the middle of Europe for many years (as had all he had come from), Dr. Weizenger found the sea mysterious, so much water it was, so uncontainable, not like a river, not like a lake; and with what cruelty the sea had carried him toward displacement and homelessness, and so standing before Mr. Potter and so standing before the sea (the sea was on his left side and the sea was on his right side and the sea was to the back of him as he faced Mr. Potter), Dr. Weizenger was confused, and then angry, and then silent. And May said, “Well!” And the silence of the sea (for the sea is silent and only its actions elicit sounds: wails, screams, cries; and then comes grief, remorse, despair) and her saying “Well!” and Mr. Potter saying “Eh, eh,” to nothing in particular, held everything they had known in a tight grip. And this moment held in a tight grip was special and ordinary: for all moments are special and all moments are ordinary and who can make them so?And Dr. Weizenger looked up and saw the sun: the sun was in its usual place, up above and in the middle of the sky, and it was shining in its usual way, so harsh, so bright, and Dr. Weizenger could hardly see his shadow, it had shortened so, as if his shadow had taken shelter from the heat of the sun, as if his shadow had been erased by the sun, and he felt so alone, for he did not even have his own reflection to offer him comfort, and Dr. Weizenger looked up again and wondered if the sun would always be so, and hoped it would not always be so, the day so bright, the sun so constant, in its place, the brightness of the light from the sun not impeded by clouds or any other interference, natural or unnatural; he hoped for some other days, days that might match a feeling, dark and gloomy days, hazy with cold mist days, days in which the sun would go in and out of huge banks of black clouds; days that might match the internal landscape, such days would match perfectly the way he would feel for the rest of his life. For Dr. Weizenger had seen days in which the sun did not shine in any way, not in its usual place, up above and in the middle of the sky, not just coming up above the landscape in the morning and not just disappearing on the horizon in the evening; he had seen days that seemed as if thinned-out milk had been used to draw the landscape in swath after swath, as if the person making the sketch of this landscape was in a state of despair and the milkiness that enveloped the atmosphere was not accidental and not deliberate, only just so, just so, all by itself, Dr. Weizenger had thought at the time. And Shanghai and Singapore and Sydney and all the other places Dr. Weizenger had come from or had just passed through, with their smog and fog and air heavy with moisture and the sun not shining with any reliability from day to day, made Dr. Weizenger suspicious of the day he was now in, the day he was now experiencing, the day in which he was meeting Mr. Potter. Dr. Weizenger had come from a place called Prague, but Mr. Potter had never heard of it, and Mr. Potter could not read and so he could not find it on a map; Mr. Potter could easily find a map, for the British Empire was not ashamed to publicize itself, but Mr. Potter could not read, not a map, not anything else.All turns in the road harbor death, thought Dr. Weizenger; any turn in the road might lead to death, thought Dr. Weizenger; but the roads to death so far had been accompanied by fog. “Radiant” and then “radiance,” thought Dr. Weizenger to himself, and he thought this so deeply that he did not know that the words had crossed his mind. But he was standing in the middle of that light coming from that sun that shone from the middle of that sky, so harshly and it was even so, the middle of the day. “Radiance” and then “radiant,” thought Dr. Weizenger, only he said these two words to himself in another language, not the English that Mr. Potter could understand but not read; he said these words in a language that Mr. Potter had never heard, and when Mr. Potter heard Dr. Weizenger speak, he thought to himself that it was as if Dr. Weizenger came from some other form of humanity, people like that—Dr. Weizenger—cannot even speak properly, so said Mr. Potter to himself. And again, “Radiant” and “radiance,” thought Dr. Weizenger, the two words now spinning around in his head; he was thinking of how beautiful light of any kind was and how brightness was better than darkness, and how light itself was the cure for the dark, everything he knew had told him so, all the things he had abandoned had told him that the light was the enemy of the dark and all the things he had come to embrace had insisted that only the light was a prescription for the dark. “Radiant, so radiant,” said Dr. Weizenger loudly, but only he could hear himself say it; “and all the goodness in the world, and that goodness is small, and all the evil in the world, and that evil is enormous, is transformed by this radiance and the world then becomes, finally, not indifferent to good or evil, for one is embraced and the other is rejected, such is the power of this radiant light.” And Dr. Weizenger was saying all this to himself very loudly, so loudly and yet only he could hear himself say it. And Dr. Weizenger looked at Mr. Potter and Mr. Potter thought to himself, Now this man who cannot speak properly is angry with me, now he is pleased with me, now he is both at the same time.And so Dr. Weizenger looked at Mr. Potter, Mr. Potter standing in the light of the sun, the sun eternally bright, the sun the very definition of light, the sunlight to which all light bowed, light that was itself and also a metaphor for all other aspiring forms of brightness. But the light in which Mr. Potter stood was not radiant, it was only the sun shining down in its usual way, a way familiar to Mr. Potter yet so unfamiliar and then so disappointing to Dr. Weizenger. And so May said, “Well!” and she meant by this that everything was in its place and so everything should then go ahead, proceed, for there were no impediments that her authority could not subdue, and she said “Well!” and “Well!” again. And Dr. Weizenger was thinking how beautiful light of any kind was, light that did not come from a furnace, a real furnace fed by the fuel of coal or human bodies; light, real light, with its opposite being darkness, real darkness, not a metaphor for the darkness from which Mr. Potter and his ancestors had come.And the bright light, thought Mr. Potter, was far, far too much (but Mr. Potter’s thoughts at that time were not separate from him, Mr. Potter’s thoughts and himself were one), and he longed for some protection for his eyes, he longed for some protection for his entire being, but there was none that he had ever heard of. And Mr. Potter squeezed his high-set cheekbones and his low-set brows toward each other into that thing called a squint, and he thought such a thing as a squint was unique to him; he did not know that other human beings might respond in that way to the harsh light cast by the sun; and all human beings might respond so, in just that way, to a surge of bright light: a squint might be a universal arrangement of human features in response to a certain kind of assault. How repulsive is this man, thought Dr. Weizenger; how ugly is his face, thought his wife May. “It might rain soon,” said Dr. Weizenger; “It will most certainly rain soon,” said Mrs. May Weizenger. No rain will come (’E no rain you know), thought Mr. Potter to himself, but his thoughts were then not spoken out loud and his thoughts were then not separated from himself, his thoughts and himself then, were one.And as Dr. Weizenger stood on the threshold of the house, his house, on the island of Antigua, the sun was shining and his wife, her name: May Weizenger (now it was Weizenger, but before it could have been Smith or Locke, something like that would do), was standing next to him and he wanted to go through the door and so he did, he stepped over the threshold and he remained just as he had been, the same man who had come from Prague and all the things attached to that, his escape from death, his expulsion from his paradise, his journeys to places with those awful names that he had only known on a map, and now to Mr. Potter and the place which had made Mr. Potter what he was and what he would be, and all of it so without importance, Dr. Weizenger had never even seen it on a map, for no mapmaker yet knew of Mr. Potter and where he came from and what had made him. And Mr. Potter went into Dr. Weizenger’s house also and opened all the windows and he showed Dr. Weizenger and his wife May how the windows could be made to do that, open and shut, with their bars turned this way and then that, and Dr. Weizenger was surprised at the very scrupulous simplicity of the working of the windows and immediately dismissed that such beauty, the clean and clear motion of windows opening and then being shut, could have anything to do with Mr. Potter and he wished Mr. Potter would just go away, but Mr. Potter knew very well the person who had made the windows, in some roundabout way they were related; Dr. Weizenger could not have known that and Dr. Weizenger just then did not want to know it, and then again, why should he?But that opening of all the windows by Mr. Potter, why that? Mr. Potter had entered the house and moved about, entering room by room, and opened all the windows; there were twenty windows all in all but the numbers were not of interest to Mr. Potter and Dr. Weizenger was so suffused with sensation that such a number of windows had no meaning to him then (but only just then, at another time this might not be so, but who knew, another time might come again and then again, perhaps not). And Mr. Potter opened the rooms as if he had authority over not the rooms themselves and not the windows themselves, but as if he had authority over the space outside the rooms, the space beyond the windows. The space beyond the windows was the very air itself, empty of things that were made by human hands, but not empty of things that were the product of the human mind: there were trees, shrubs, herbs, and other annoyances of the vegetable kingdom; there were animals and birds and other annoyances of the animal kingdom; there was emptiness waiting to be filled up with what? with what? and with what again? But Mr. Potter, the entity that made up Mr. Potter, was nothing itself, nothing in the sense of something without worth, nothing in the way of a lighted matchstick when it is not needed, so Dr. Weizenger thought, and so too thought the rest of the world, the rest of the world who could have an idea in regard to anything and then launch that idea into the realm of the everyday.But that opening of all the windows by Mr. Potter made Mr. Potter look out at all the light outside, how it thrilled him (’E ah make me trimble up inside, ’e ah make me feel funny), for it was the light as he had always known it, so bright that it eventually made everything that came in contact with it transparent and then translucent, the light was spread before Mr. Potter as if it were a sea of water, it covered and yet revealed all that it encompassed; the light was substance itself and the light gave substance to everything else: the trees became the trees but only more so, and the ground in which they anchored themselves remained the ground but only more so, and the sky above revealed more and more of the sky and into the heavens, into eternity, and then returned to the earth; and Mr. Potter thought, for he was lost in the light outside the window (but which window? For it could have been any of the twenty windows), he thought, but his thoughts then are lost now, his mind went blank and he existed not as a man who could cause pain and would cause pain, and not only as a victim of pain and injustice. And he saw the light outside making everything so transparent and then everything becoming translucent and Mr. Potter was happy, he swelled up with it, happiness, and I was not born yet, he had not yet abandoned my mother when I was seven months old in her womb, my mother had not yet taken all his savings, money he kept in the mattress of the bed they shared together, and run away from him; he could not read or write, he could not go to a bank, and my mother had taken all his savings meant for him to one day buy his own motorcar and carry his own passengers, and when she abandoned Mr. Potter and took all his savings, I was then seven months old in her womb. My mother’s name was Annie. And because Mr. Potter could neither read nor write, he could not understand himself, he could not make himself known to others, he did not know himself, not that such things would have brought him any amount of happiness. And because Mr. Potter could neither read nor write, he made someone who could do so, who could even love doing so, reading and writing. And as Mr. Potter stood before the window, seeing the world (for it was the world he was seeing) in that special light, in that special way, he did not think to himself, This is Happiness itself, This is as happy as I will ever be, This is as happy as anyone, any human being, will ever be; he did not think that at all, for he was not at that moment separated from himself, he and that particular sentiment and that particular moment were one: he was happy in that light and all the glory of the world could not exist without him.And Mr. Potter stood before the window (it could have been any of the windows) and just for a moment he paused, and in that moment all of the world was revealed to him and he could see it clearly, the world, that is, the world and all that was in it and all that would be in it, but words just then failed him, for he could not read and he could not write and then he turned around to see Dr. Weizenger and his wife and made a gesture, he flung his arms out and away from his body, he flung his arms open wide and without hurry, as if to say, Here! All this in front of me is mine and I want to share it with you, let us live in it together, but Mr. Potter could not read and Mr. Potter could not write and in any case Dr. Weizenger did not want to share anything with him; Dr. Weizenger, so recently placed on the very edge of extinction, did not want to share anything with Mr. Potter, a man so long alive in a cauldron of terror. “What is your name?” asked Dr. Weizenger, “What do they call you?” asked Dr. Weizenger, and just at that moment Mrs. Weizenger, Dr. Weizenger’s wife and also his nurse, said “Zoltan,” she was calling out her own husband’s name, “Zoltan,” she said, and Dr. Weizenger turned away from Mr. Potter and looked toward his wife and Mr. Potter supposed that he saw her, he was looking at her, he was looking in that direction over there where she stood, and what was her name, thought Mr. Potter suddenly, as if it would matter, as if knowing her name, the one that was not Mrs. Weizenger, would ever matter to him. And when Dr. Weizenger looked at his wife (her name was May, that was the name Mr. Potter wondered about), something passed between them, words perhaps, a meaningful silence perhaps; it was words but they spoke in a language that Mr. Potter did not understand, it was English but Mr. Potter did not understand it, and that exchange between Dr. Weizenger and his wife ended and he, Dr. Weizenger, now turned again to Mr. Potter, resuming his interrogation, but silently now, he picked up where he had left off, as if nothing had come between them, not silence, not its opposite, and Mr. Potter said, “Me name Potter, Potter me name,” and the sound of Mr. Potter’s voice, so full of all that had gone wrong in the world for almost five hundred years that it could break the heart of an ordinary stone, meant not a thing to Dr. Weizenger, for he had been only recently inhabiting the world as if it were composed only of extinction, as if it were devoted to his very own extinction. And Dr. Weizenger was of the mammal species, not reptile or amphibian or insect or bird, but of the mammals, and so used to observing, not being observed, and so used to acting, not being acted upon. And his own extinction had almost succeeded and how surprised he was by this, and how surprised he would remain for the rest of his life, as if such a thing had never happened before, as if groups of people, one day intact and building civilization and dominating heaven and earth, had not the next found themselves erased and not even been remembered in a prayer or in a joke by the rest of humanity; as if groups of people had not been erased from the beginning of life and human memory. And the sound of Mr. Potter’s voice as he spoke his own name, giving his own name the character of a caress (or so Dr. Weizenger thought), made Dr. Weizenger furious, angry, and how he hated Mr. Potter then, Mr. Potter whom history had made into nothing, a thing of no spiritual value, nothing had the luxury of self-love, and Dr. Weizenger could hear it in his voice, “Me name Potter, Potter me name.” Those were the words that were spoken, but the sound of Mr. Potter’s voice, so full of love for himself, so full of certainty that his name and he were one, made Dr. Weizenger just then want to shut off Mr. Potter’s ability to take in oxygen, he wanted to silence Mr. Potter forever, or certainly just now, but all of this murderous rage was distilled into commands: where to place the suitcases, when to come again and carry them for a ride to some destination or other in Mr. Shoul’s car. And Mr. Potter and Dr. Weizenger were standing face-to-face and Dr. Weizenger and Mr. Potter were standing opposite each other, and memory, which is to say, history, that frail recollection, that unreliable gathering of all that has happened, did not abandon them: Mr. Potter took off his hat (it was a cap worn by children, schoolboys, in England) and held it in his hand with his head bowed low, his head had come to a rest on his chest, and he looked at the ground in front of him as it lay at his feet, the floor it was and it was made of pitch pine and he did not wonder who made pitch pine and Mr. Potter did not wonder who had made such an idea as pitch pine possible and then turned it into floors and then tables and chairs, and who made anything valuable. Mr. Potter did not think of any of that, his eyes were cast down on the floor (made of pitch pine) and the floor became a relief, for the floor was nothing, just itself, a floor, a man-made barrier against the shifting disorder of the earth; how Mr. Potter loved the floor just then, just at that moment when he was standing in front of Dr. Weizenger and the views and the light just outside the window (or the windows, as it may be) were now behind him. And when Mr. Potter said to Dr. Weizenger his name, he did not long to know of all the Potters that he came from and how it came to be so that he came from them, he did not seek to interrogate the past to give meaning to the present and the future, he only said his name as if he had been asked to state the shape of the earth or the color of the sky, he said his name with the certainty natural to all true things. And as Mr. Potter stood face-to-face with Dr. Weizenger and as Mr. Potter stood before Dr. Weizenger and heard all Dr. Weizenger’s commands in regard to the this (the suitcases) and the that (taking Dr. and Mrs. Weizenger here and there), his mind, his conscious thinking, roused itself from the satisfaction of hearing the music of his own voice saying his own name, and now he suddenly disliked the way Dr. Weizenger spoke English, for the English language did not skip off Dr. Weizenger’s tongue as if glad to do so, it did not dance out of his mouth calmly, so sure of itself; Dr. Weizenger did not speak the English language as if he, Dr. Weizenger, and the English language were one seamless, inviolable whole: ‘E make pappy show o’ ’eself, is what Mr. Potter thought when he heard Dr. Weizenger talk then, that time when Dr. Weizenger had just arrived, so new to the new place that was very old to Mr. Potter, so new to the place that Mr. Potter knew very well, inside out or almost so, inside out.And Mr. Potter left the Weizengers, that is, Dr. Weizenger and his wife May (for that was her name, May); he left their presence, he left their house and walked out to the car, Mr. Shoul’s car, for Mr. Potter was not yet driving his own car, and he opened the door and he sat in the driver’s seat and he turned the car’s key so that the engine would start the car, making it ready for driving, and then he looked over his shoulder, but only figuratively, for he did not really wish to look backward, and to himself he wondered about the people he had just left behind, Dr. Weizenger and his wife who was also his nurse, her name was May, and when wondering about them then, or at any time, the words to come out of his mouth were, “Eh, eh!” and then, “Eh, eh!” a continuing series of those words, those sounds, “Eh, eh!” “Eh, eh!” And when he got into the car, he placed his right foot on that thing called the accelerator (the car he was driving was made in the United States of America) and he went forward out into the small part of the world that was Antigua, and he drove past the cemetery and he drove past many churches through which all the dead passed on their way to the cemetery, and as he drove he could see the great sea of the Caribbean on one side of the road and the great ocean that was the Atlantic on the other and events great or small did not enter his mind, nothing entered his mind, his mind was already filled up with Mr. Potter.Copyright © 2002 by Jamaica Kincaid
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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 6, 2002

    Nice writing style!

    This is a page turner. I recommend this realistic, smooth flowing, thought provoking novel!

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