Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Friday, January 20, 2012

"Poor Visitor" by Jamaica Kincaid

"Poor Visitor" by Jamaica Kincaid (1989, ten pages)

Jamaica Kincaid was born in 1949 in Antigua but it can safely be said The New Yorker brought her to life and world attention as a writer.  In 1965 she moved to Westchester, N. Y. to be an au pair or as we say in the Philippines, a yaya.    She then after leaving this position studied photography at The New School for Social Research and began to write short stories based loosely on her own experiences.   Through contacts she made from her writing she ultimately went to work for The New Yorker while frequently publishing short stories in the magazine.    She ended up marrying the son of the editor of The New Yorker.    She has also written some well regarded novels and works of non-fiction.   

I recently purchased a collection of short stories all set in New York City that were first published in the magazine, Wonderful Town:  New York Stories from the New Yorker.    There are stories by lots of new to be writers, some authors I have read before, and some I am familiar with but have not yet read.   I was glad a story by Jamaica Kincaid was in the collection.   

It appears little of the work of Kincaid can be read online.   All of her New Yorker stories are available only to paid subscribers.  Given that I will just post briefly on this story.

This story seems very much based on Kincaid's own experiences.   The story is a  good account of what it must have been like to move from a tropical island that New Yorkers dream of going to in the winter, to New York City to be a yaya.   The story is told in the first person.   We can feel the loneliness and isolation the yaya feels.   She does not have a lot of work to do as her charges go to school during the day so she can do her college homework during the day.   The family is quite affluent and  also has a maid, who lets the yaya know her place right away.   

The fun in this very well written story is in seeing the yaya struggle to adjust to her new environment.     She is torn away from everything she knows.

I think a lot readers in the Philippines, many of whom probably had a yaya as a child or employ one now, might find this story interesting.   I know I did.

Please share your experiences with Jamaica Kincaid with us.

Mel u


Unknown said...

I recently read "Girl" by the same author, in an anthology of short stories. It made me want to read more of her work, so I appreciate your review!

Anonymous said...

Kincaid is a fabulous author. I've known about her for a long time. I read a novel Annie John years back and really liked it.

Mel u said...

Jenny-Thanks so much for your comment and reading suggestion-

kinnareads-I hope to read more or Kincaid's work soon-please keep me informed on the short story aspect of your African Reading Challenge

Anonymous said...

Hi Mel: Jamaica is an avid gardener and lived in rural New England, last I heard. She wrote a lovely little book titled "My Garden" that I have. She is interestingly diverse. Ruby


Mel u said...

Kathy-I think Kincaid is very interesting and hope to read more of her work-thanks so much for your comment and visit

HKatz said...

Like another commenter here, I also read "Girl" this past year. The story is written really distinctly as a set of advice/orders to a girl for what she can and can't do. It builds and builds, and is quite powerful.

I'm going to check out this collection too that you mentioned; I spend a lot of time in New York, so there's a personal interest too.

Mel u said...

HKatz-be sure and download a sample of Wonderful Town-it has a complete index of the stories in the collection. There are lots of stories and I think it is a a good value for lovers short stories and would be especially meaningful to those with a New York City connection, which I lack. I will be posting on more stories from the collection for sure.

Mel u said...

Hkatz-I have located "Girl" online and will read and post on it very soon-thanks very much for telling me about this story.

Sushma Joshi said...

Jamaica Kincaid's non-fiction is very acutely observed. I haven't read her works in a while but I remember being struck by it during college. I think she dared to say what nobody else would--and I have a feeling she was writing a little before post-colonialism became part of mainstream discourse.

Mel u said...

HKatz and all-here is a link where "Girl" by Jamaica Kincaid can be read-it is a very short work and for sure worth your time-thanks again for letting me know about this work

Sushma Joshi-I think you are right on Kincaid-thanks very much for your comments and visits