Picks and Pans Review: Annie John

UPDATED 04/22/1985 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 04/22/1985 at 01:00 AM EST

by Jamaica Kincaid

These are deceptively simple, sometimes magical stories about a young girl's growing up on the island of Antigua. Annie John adores her beautiful mother, who is much younger than Annie's father, a carpenter. He has made every piece of furniture in their house—and built the house too. Annie is a smart little girl. At her new school, she observes, "My palms were wet, and quite a few times the ground felt as if it were seesawing under my feet, but that didn't stop me from taking in a few things. For instance, the headmistress, Miss Moore. I knew right away that she had come to Antigua from England, for she looked like a prune left out of its jar a long time and she sounded as if she had borrowed her voice from an owl." Not only does the West Indian Kincaid evoke the world of a young woman coming of age, but she provides a shimmering image of an island where a woman can carry a load of green figs on her head without knowing that a black snake is hidden among them. There is an Obeah woman who wards off evil spirits, and the heroine has a long, serious illness that eventually ends as mysteriously as it began. How does a child handle it when the mother she has always loved becomes gradually an object of hatred—for no true, good reason? Kincaid's prose has a music all its own. It is a perfect vehicle for her specifically West Indian, yet subtly universal, observations. (Farrar Straus Giroux, $11.95)

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