Small Island

Small Island

Book - 2004
Average Rating:
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It is 1948 in an England still shaken by war. At 21 Nevern Street, London, Queenie Bligh takes into her house lodgers who have recently arrived from Jamaica. What else could she do when her husband, Bernard, never returned from his RAF wartime posting to India? Among her tenants are Gilbert and his new wife Hortense. Gilbert Joseph was one of the several thousand Jamaican men who joined the RAF to fight against Hitler. Returning to England after the war he finds himself treated very differently now that he is no longer in a blue uniform. Desperation makes him remember a wartime friendship with Queenie and knock at her door. Hortense shared Gilbert's dream of leaving Jamaica and coming to England to start a better life. But when she at last joins her husband, she is shocked by London's shabbiness and horrified at the way the English live. Even Gilbert is not the man she thought he was.

Queenie's neighbours do not approve of her choice of tenants, and neither would her husband, were he there. Through the stories of these people, SMALL ISLAND explores a point in England's past when the country began to change.

Publisher: London : Review, 2004.
ISBN: 9780755307494
0755307496
9780755307500
075530750X
9780755355952
0755355954
Characteristics: 441 p. ;,21 cm.

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WVMLStaffPicks Jan 19, 2015

It is 1948 in an England still shaken by the war. Queenie Bligh takes in lodgers recently arrived from Jamaica. What else could she do when her husband had never returned from his RAF wartime posting to India? Gilbert Joseph was one of several thousand Jamaican men who joined the RAF to fight against Hitler. Returning to England after the war, and no longer in a blue uniform, he is confronted by prejudice and distrust. Levy's own parents emigrated to Britain just after the war and the book is based on their experience. The novel deservedly won the 2004 Orange Prize for Fiction.

s
sarawest2
May 05, 2014

A beautifully written book that captures an historical moment like few others do. Enlightening, funny, sometimes sad, and consistently a compelling read.

o
ownedbydoxies
Feb 15, 2013

An excellent, well-written, engrossing page-turner. I loved it. And now I'm gonna have to find the movie :)

RenGrrl Aug 14, 2012

Lovely and heart-wrenching award-winning novel! Check out the video too!

u
uncommonreader
Jul 29, 2012

Beautifully written.

crankylibrarian Nov 01, 2011

War often engineers major societal change: families are uprooted, young people unexpectedly become leaders and are opened to new experiences, social groups mix. It's no coincidence that the U.S. social justice movements experienced renewed energy after World Wars I and II. In Britain, it was the anti-colonial movements which caught fire in the wake of war. The conflict is elegantly articulated by two characters in Andrea Levy's _Small Island_: a Jamaican, bitter that his RAF service earns him no respect or appreciation in post-war England, and a white Englishman who fought "so that each man could live amongst his own kind".

Told in the alternating voices of its central characters, Small Island examines the inner lives and struggles of Jamaican immigrants Hortense and Gilbert, both before and after the war. Gifted, well educated, and self-reliant, they are determined to find success in their revered "Mother country", but keenly disappointed by the ignorance and racism they encounter. Their English landlady Queenie has been similarly discouraged by life, particularly in her marriage to stolid, unimaginative Bernard, whose unshakable faith in British superiority and tradition will leave him pitifully unprepared to cope with post-war reality. There are no villains or heroes here, just 4 bewildered, ordinary people doing the best they can.

e
elsieh
Feb 08, 2011

Wonderful insight into what it is like to be an immigrant. I had some ahah moments reading this.

Harriet_the_Spy Aug 16, 2010

Levy is uncanny at getting us to understand and sympathize with characters we think we don't like. Remarkable, gripping story.

h
Hadley
Dec 06, 2007

Great story with memorable characters, set in post- WWII London. Levy has a terrific ear for dialog and accents. Won the Orange Prize in 2004.

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