Small Island

Small Island

Paperback - 2004
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Small Island by bestselling author Andrea Levy won the Orange Prize for Fiction, as well as the Commonwealth Writers' Prize and the Whitbread. It is possibly the definitive fictional account of the experiences of the Empire Windrush generation. Now a major BBC drama starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Naomie Harris, its enduring appeal will captivate fans of Maya Angelou and Zadie Smith.

'A great read... honest, skilful, thoughtful and important' - Guardian

It is 1948, and England is recovering from a war. But at 21 Nevern Street, London, the conflict has only just begun. Queenie Bligh's neighbours do not approve when she agrees to take in Jamaican lodgers, but Queenie doesn't know when her husband will return, or if he will come back at all. What else can she do?

Gilbert Joseph was one of the several thousand Jamaican men who joined the RAF to fight against Hitler. Returning to England as a civilian he finds himself treated very differently. It's desperation that makes him remember a wartime friendship with Queenie and knock at her door.

Gilbert's wife Hortense, too, had longed to leave Jamaica and start a better life in England. But when she joins him she is shocked to find London shabby, decrepit, and far from the golden city of her dreams. Even Gilbert is not the man she thought he was...

Publisher: London, Eng. : Review, 2004
ISBN: 9780755307500
Characteristics: 533 pages ;,20 cm.


From Library Staff

"A stunning portrait of life in 1948 London told from the point of view of two Jamaican immigrants, their white landlady, and her husband, who has just returned from combat. Small Island is an immigrant story that shows race relations in mid-century London as it rebuilds from war." - ht... Read More »

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Aug 19, 2019

This novel also won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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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