The Autobiography of My Mother, first published in 1996, is a novel written by Antiguan-American author Jamaica Kincaid. Jamaica Kincaid was born Elaine Potter Richardson in 1949 in the capital city of St. John’s, Antigua. She is the author of five novels, a short story collection, five nonfiction books, a children’s book, and an array of uncollected short stories and essays, Kincaid was shortlisted for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction in 1994 and has been elected to both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Kincaid’s own life experiences living in poverty in Antigua as a child and her position in the world as a woman have been the basis of her novels.
In The Autobiography of My Mother, the readers encounter a first person, retrospective account of the life of Xuela Claudette Richardson, who narrates her life looking back over seventy years. It won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in 1997. Her memories are recollected and narrated with such clarity and vividness that one might even think it is being lived in the present. Intermingled with Xuela’s immediate story is the story of the Caribbean island of Dominica, a land that was once under the oppressions of colonial rule. The Autobiography of My Mother is different from her other novels because of its style. Unlike her other books which are filled with poetic and flowery language, The Autobiography of My Mother is written in a more direct style of prose. The book is pensive and reflective on the protagonist’s own life, instead of her relationships.
Xuela, who is half-Carib and half Scottish-African, loses her mother soon after her birth and is on her own from an early age. This novel follows her life of struggles, her relationships and surroundings as she tries to find her way in a world without a mother. It depicts her journey from childhood, to school, to adulthood, the exploring themes of fear, loss, and the forging of her character. The unusual narrative style and the lack of a more standard, traditional plot in the The Autobiography of My Mother was frowned upon by many. Despite these criticisms, the work was praised for its extensive character work and extravagant descriptions. Xuela struggles to cultivate a positive sense of self in an environment that continues to be hostile towards her because of her race and gender. She also struggles to cope with the early loss of her mother. Xuela never knew her mother, who died in childbirth.
It is also different than her other novels because of its subject matter. In most of her other books, Kincaid spins a story that depicts a rocky relationship between a mother and a daughter, reflecting on her own relationship with her mother as she became less valuable upon the birth of her brothers. Kincaid decided to take a different approach with The Autobiography of My Mother. The book actually begins by explaining the death of the protagonist’s mother. This is a reflection on a period of Kincaid’s life when she went into self-exile. At this time, Kincaid got a job in the United states and was expected to send the money back to her family in Antigua but didn’t. She didn’t even answer their letters. Instead, she focused on herself and on the life she wanted to build; this is precisely the phase in her life that is reflected in Autobiography of My Mother.