Small Island ePUB – Mariahilff.de

Hortense Joseph arrives in London from Jamaica inwith her life in her suitcase, her heart broken, her resolve intact Her husband, Gilbert Joseph, returns from the war expecting to be received as a hero, but finds his status as a black man in Britain to be second class His white landlady, Queenie, raised as a farmer s daughter, befriends Gilbert, and later Hortense, with innocence and courage, until the unexpected arrival of her husband, Bernard, who returns from combat with issues of his own to resolve Told in these four voices, Small Island is a courageous novel of tender emotion and sparkling wit, of crossings taken and passages lost, of shattering compassion and of reckless optimism in the face of insurmountable barriers in short, an encapsulation of the immigrant s life


10 thoughts on “Small Island

  1. Sean Barrs Sean Barrs says:

    Books like this are why I study English literature at university, books like this are why I read so ferociously Ferocious reading Now that s an interesting image But, honestly, I m careful when I read I wouldn t want to scratch those pages But, I m digressing here This book is an eye opener it is an excellent teacher of part of English cultural history Could you imagine fighting for a country not your own, and then being treated by the citizens of that country like dirt Those you ended Books like this are why I study English literature at university, books like this are why I read so ferociously Ferocious reading Now that s an interesting image But, honestly, I m careful when I read I wouldn t want to scratch those pages But, I m digressing here This book is an eye opener it is an excellent teacher of part of English cultural history Could you imagine fighting for a country not your own, and then being treated by the citizens of that country like dirt Those you ended up saving, those you helped to win the war, view you as a ruffian and a scumbag just because of the colour of your skin Such was the thankless attitude of the British public when black soldiers returned from the war West Indian soldiers fought and died for the commonwealth, and when they tried to enter the heart of it, dreary England, they were treated as second class citizens Now I m, of course, speaking in generalised terms Not everyone felt and acted this way, but there was enough of it for Andrea Levy to write such a powerful novel depicting the realities these men faced This is a great story, completely character driven that much so I m going to divide the remainder of my review into two to discuss the most complex characters The raptured wife Hortense She is attracted to this idea of England She has grown up reading English novels, listening to the white man s education, and has eventually gone on to teach the same value to her pupils For her, this idea of England is something she has always wanted Unfortunately, for her, it doesn t exist, at least not for a black woman in 50s England When she finally makes it to the land of her dreams, she realises how secluded and isolated she is Nobody wants her in their country her strength resides in her dignity and a will to carry on regardless of what others think She is the most complex character in the novel, and the one I enjoyed reading about the most When I l look back on this novel in a few years time, I will remember Hortense before anyone else, and her struggle to receive the respect she deserves The representative of the stupid English patriarchy and a casual racist Bernard Bligh He is outdated and incredibly repulsive, this figure of foolishness represents how small minded some people can actually be His journey is one of stupidity and selfishness He is emasculate and slightly insecure, so joining the army for him is a way to prove his manliness and escape his pointless marriage The man simply doesn t know how to behave in the bedroom I will say no , other than that his wife is a poor soul for marrying such a stoic creature He witnesses some real heroes in the army, and despite his continued fear, he even commits one himself Contrastingly, Gilbert is a real soldier yet, when Bernard returns he has the audacity to put on the superiority act He such a repulsive man to read about, but his type is one that infests history Final Thoughts this wasn t told in chronological order it s structure, time frame and narrative were in a carefully chosen order It slowly, and ever so delicately, began to reveal the reasons behind the character s choices, and it was such an effective technique It s like Levy slowly peeled away the layers of the characters, and revealed them one step at a time This was an excellent piece of literature I studied it on a postcolonial module, and fell in love with the brutal realism behind the words Levy is an excellent storyteller


  2. Bionic Jean Bionic Jean says:

    Almost seventy years ago, on 22nd June 1948, the passenger ship HMTEmpire Windrushsailed into London s Tilbury docks Several of these large troop ships had been acquired at the end of the Second World War by the British government, and all were renamedEmpire , followed by the name of a river in this case a little river in Oxfordshire But the wordWindrushcame to symbolise something far greater It was to give its name to an entire generation of people, all of whom had emigrated from Almost seventy years ago, on 22nd June 1948, the passenger ship HMTEmpire Windrushsailed into London s Tilbury docks Several of these large troop ships had been acquired at the end of the Second World War by the British government, and all were renamedEmpire , followed by the name of a river in this case a little river in Oxfordshire But the wordWindrushcame to symbolise something far greater It was to give its name to an entire generation of people, all of whom had emigrated from the Caribbean to Great Britain.In 1948, theBritish Nationality Acthad just been passed This conferred British citizenship on all British subjects connected with the United Kingdom or a British colony TheEmpire Windrushhad been en route from Australia to England via the Atlantic, when it docked in Kingston, Jamaica, to pick up servicemen who were on leave The ship was nowhere near full, and so an advertisement was placed in a Jamaican newspaper offering cheap transport on the ship, for anybody who wanted to come and work in the UK.It was a popular idea Many former servicemen, who had served alongside British troops in the Second World War, jumped at this opportunity to return to Britain with the hopes of rejoining the RAF Others wanted to see what themother country , heralded as a land of opportunity, was like The resulting group was the first large group of 492 Caribbean immigrants to Britain It famously began a wave of migration from the Caribbean to the UK, and can be thought of as the start of our modern British multicultural society.The novelist Andrea Levy s father was on that ship, and in her early books she wrote about her contemporaries other children of theWindrush generation , and their efforts to find a way of being both black and British In her fourth novel, Small Island, she has envisioned the struggles of the pioneering Windrush generation itself.Small Island has won the Orange Prize, the Commonwealth Writers Prize, and the Whitbread Book of the Year Award another of Britain s top literary prizes in 2004 One of the judges remarked that it isa brilliantly observed novel of a period of English history that many people seem not to know much about a masterful depiction of a society on the verge of major changes The novel interweaves the stories of four people, all of whom are affected by the historical context, which involves World War II, the British Empire, and the effect of colonialism on those living in Jamaica.It begins in 1948, as England is recovering from the war Gilbert Joseph is one of nine children of an alcoholic Jewish father and a Jamaican mother He is also one of several thousand Jamaican men who had joined the RAF, to fight against Hitler, during the Second World war Marrying enables him to buy his passage on the Windrush, and he excitedly books a passage to return But his expectations are sorely dashed Returning to England as a civilian, he finds himself treated very differently London is shabby, decrepit, filled with sour looking people who never smile The food seems to him like flavourless mush This grey place is far from the golden city of his dreams In desperation, he remembers a wartime friendship with Queenie, a butcher s daughter who used to live in the country before she married Gilbert knocks at her door, at 21 Nevern Street, London, hoping she will offer him accommodation.Queenie Bligh, a working class Englishwoman, remembers Gilbert, and allows him lodging, although it is not what he is used to Queenie s house has been damaged by German bombs and has fallen into disrepair because she cannot afford the upkeep of such a large building The poor conditions and squalid dirty room shocks his new bride, Hortense, who soon joins him Hortense too, had longed to leave Jamaica and start a better life in England She had thought of England as a promised land everyone was happy and rich in England But when she joins her husband she finds a cold and woebegone place, with drabness and filth everywhere People never smile, and seem unkempt and rude, taking no pride in their appearance There is no colour or life Even Gilbert is not the man she had thought he was And she cannot understand Queenie at all.Hortense is the least sympathetic character She is educated, but very conscious whilst growing up in Jamaica, that her golden skin makes her seem superior She is a village snob, narrow minded, and insecure genuinely ignorant of the world On arriving in England, she has every expectation that it will be an upmarket version of her teacher training college in Jamaica Hortense begins by despising the apparently feckless Gilbert and the circumstances to which he has brought her She looks down her nose at working class Queenie, and firmly rejects the idea that she has anything in common with the other slum dwelling migrants.But Hortense soon discovers that her precious qualifications are worthless in the British education system, and that her status is precisely the same as that of any other black migrant The revelation almost destroys her self esteem, but it also sets her on a path to self discovery, beginning to understand Gilbert s strength, and Queenie s kindness in this new challenging, unfamiliar world they all inhabit.Queenie herself has a difficult life, looking after her missing husband s taciturn father, and meeting much opposition from her neighbours, who do not approve when she agrees to take in Jamaican lodgers Queenie recognises the differences between white people and black people, but pays little attention to them In any case, she has little choice about this, as she has been left on her own, not knowing when her husband will return, or if he will come back at all She too has had her dreams dashed To support herself, Queenie must rent out rooms.Gilbert and Hortense attempt to adjust not only to a new country but to each other The relationships of all three are soon disrupted by the view spoiler unexpected arrival of Queenie s husband, Bernard, whose whereabouts since his discharge from the army, two years earlier, have been a mystery to everyone hide spoiler The structure of the novel lends itself well to creating a page turner All four characters take turns in telling their stories, and the heading of each chapter is the name of the narrator, to avoid confusion Not that there would be much confusion, as Andrea Levy has captured the voice and vernacular of each of the four perfectly There will be several chapters aboutGilbertorQueenie , HortneseorBernardThey may be set within just a few days in 1948, or as flashbacks, Before in a time zone which comprises a great deal of the novel.Andrea Levy s grip on the language of each of the characters is superb There is lot of confusion in Britain even now, about the nature of Caribbean dialects This has led to a kind of dumbed down homogenisation of a pseuodo black accent Black authors who grew up in London or Birmingham have tended to consolidate different types of speech, from different regions and classes in the Caribbean islands, blending it into a kind of street slang, or a language familiar from some pop music, complete with missing consonants and apostrophised accents Andrea Levy however, reproduces the rhythm and content of her characters speech, whether they are village Jamaican, or Jamaican speaking carefully inflected English Evenimpressive, she does the same for her English characters American G.I or cockney white working class Queenie sounds every bit like a Londoner brought up in the early part of the last century and Bernard sounds like a man who has served in the Far East It is remarkably authentic.Many of the incidents of racism are unexpected to an English reader, even one like me, who can just remember a mere decade later These few years after the war are largely forgotten in the history books, save for references to the continuing rationing, queuing and food shortages But the shameful way black citizens were sometimes treated, are often ignored, or pushed aside There were reasons, or at least triggers The British people were just not ready for large scale immigration Newcomers were seen as taking much needed jobs, or food, when the country was still getting back on its feet Most people will have been conflicted Yet to expect another person to step aside because of the colour of their skin, was inexcusable, and a salutory lesson to those now who are complacent that Britain has been a country with comparatively little racial prejudice.Shortly after this was set, the British government began to actively recruit from the Caribbean and encourage people to come to Britain to live and work There were plenty of jobs in post war Britain, so industries such as British Rail, the National Health Service and public transport began to actively recruit from Jamaica and Barbados Even though Afro Caribbean people had been encouraged to journey to Britain through immigration campaigns created by successive British governments, many new arrivals were, like Gilbert and Hortense a little earlier, to endure prejudice, intolerance and extreme racism from some sectors of white British society Some of the early Afro Caribbean immigrants found that private employment and housing was denied to them, on the basis of race Trade unions would often not help them, and some pubs, clubs, dance halls and churches would bar black people from entering Housing was in short supply because of wartime bombing, and the shortage led to some of the first clashes with the established white community.Clashes continued and worsened into the 1950s, and riots erupted in cities including London, Birmingham and Nottingham There were tensions in some areas for over a decade, until the passing of theRace Relations Actof 1968 This Act of Parliament made it illegal to refuse housing, employment, or public services to a person on the grounds of colour, race, ethnic or national origins It also created the Community Relations Commissionto promote harmonious community relationsThis was later to be renamed the Commission for Racial Equality, and now we have theEquality and Human Rights Commission .I have no doubt of the authenticity of the book, as it pertains to that time Andrea Levy not only has the anecdotal reports of the time from her parents, who will have often told her of their migrant experience, but she rigorously adheres to historical fact, including many well recorded details For instance, view spoiler Gilbert and Queenie are involved in a wartime incident where the US army attempts to impose a segregated seating plan in a local cinema Gilbert resists and sets off a riot in which Queenie s father in law is shot dead by American military policemen In another part of the story, Bernard is involved in a mutiny in India hide spoiler All these instances fit well into an historical novel, as well as providing greater substance to the characterisation, and giving a context to the attitudes of different parts of society at the time The reliance on historical fact allows Andrea Levy a distance, which enables her to be both objective and compassionate But Andrea Levy s imagination and insight illuminate these old stories in such a persuasive way, that the reader can almost believe she was there at the time, and is recording her own experience They are exciting to read, as well as providing much food for thought, questioning attitudes to discrimination There are many types of prejudice working in this novel, and they are not always the ones the reader expects.Hortense is as prejudiced as any other character in the novel While living in Jamaica, she does not feel a victim of this Quite the reverse, as she seems to revel in the special attention she is given, because her skin isgolden than black Her father, who was light skinned, had an affair with a dark skinned country woman When Hortense was born, he took the baby to his brother s home and paid to have this lighter skinned family raise Hortense, while her natural mother was sent away to Cuba.Hortense may not up to now not been a victim of racial prejudice in her youth, but she is very conscious and guilty of social prejudice She looks down on people who speak what she considers to be substandard English, whatever the colour of their skin When Hortense moves to London, she cannot understand why people cannot understand her, commenting on how hard she studied in Jamaica to learn proper English She knows she is speaking grammatically correct sentences, rather than using thecommon forms of English which some of her fellow Jamaicans use She cannot understand why she needs to constantly repeat herself to other British people, as if she were speaking a foreign language It takes living in London for a while, before she listenscarefully to people, and realises that she has a strong accent of her own As Hortense used to look down on people in Jamaica for how they spoke, people in London now look down on her.For me, Andrea Levy s most powerful achievement in Small Island is the authenticity of the character s voices Segregation was never part of Britain s way of life, but ignorance led to much confusion by ordinary people, whether white or black We see how even this covert English racism was all theheartbreaking for those from the colonies, because it involved the crushing of their ideals Many had spent all their lives revering the mother country and were proud to be British citizens, fighting for King and country They had been educated to a high standard, and knewabout the different cities and areas of Britain than many who had lived here all their lives Yet often they would meet with incomprehension, as the white British often assumed they were from Africa, and had never heard of the West Indies.Gilbert can reel off the names of England s canals, and list the major industries of each English town He is astonished to then discover that most English people can t even find Jamaica on a mapHow come England did not know mehe asks Hortense s shock is even greater She is stunned to find that ordinary people in the street cannot understand her carefully correct speech, and assume her to be stupid She cannot make herself understood by a London taxi driver, despite the fact that she won a prize for reciting Keats sOde to a Nightingaleat school And when she reaches the employment office for teachers, clutching her excellent qualifications and references, she is mortified to discover that all her training and experience counts for nothing in England No one will explain why they merely refuse to interview her When she tells them that in that case she will enrol in teacher classes in London, they merely laugh at her Her colour says it all No one will hire Hortense because she is black.It would be easy to contrast the two very different lives of Queenie and Hortense, or the prejudiced Bernard with Gilbert, or even to make the two forge a miraculous friendship But Andrea Levy does not take the easy way out, in order to make a satisfying but predictable story Instead, she points up and contrasts Gilbert s experiences as a Jamaican in the RAF with the lot of black G.I.s in the United States forces.Gilbert is caught off guard by prejudice When he first enlists in the RAF, he is taken to the United States to be trained His supervisor explains to the Jamaican troops that they are special black people, different from US black G.I.s American negroes have few rights in the States, and so are not treated as well, but the Jamaican servicemen are given special privileges, because they are different However, when they arrive in England, they find that they are not to be given the jobs they had been promised Gilbert and others had wanted to fly, but instead they become clerks and drivers of jeeps and trucks.The American bases are strictly segregated, with the black and white G.I.s never socialising The black G.I.s, even in England, are viewed as second class citizens by their superior officers, and are given passes for leave on different days Not only that, but the leave is to be taken in different towns, unbeknown to the residents of those English towns.Gilbert, being both black and British, therefore presents the Americans with a problem His white RAF comrades have no problem, but the Americans certainly do An odd situation results, where a black subject of the British Empire is seen to have superior black skin , and treated as if he were whiteWe were allowed to live with white soldiers, while the inferior American negro was not I was perplexed No, we were all perplexed We Jamaicans, knowing our island was one of the largest in the Caribbean, think ourselves sophisticated men of the world Better than the small islanders whose universe only runs a few miles in either direction before it falls into the sea Small Island has many shades of inference, and a dual literal meaning As an English reader, I assumed it would refer to Great Britain, viewed as a jewel of the Empire at the time of the book Through Gilbert, I learned that for the inhabitants of Jamaica, the largest island in the West Indies, Small Island would refer to any of the rest of the Caribbean But Gilbert goes through a change When he returns to Jamaica after the war, he understands for the first time that he too is a small islander in the eyes of the rest of the world, or at least of those he has met Bernard too, has also been changed by his wartime experiences view spoiler When he returns to London, Bernard is horrified to find what he calls wogs as lodgers in his own home He is also disappointed by home itselfEngland had shrunk , he saysIt was smaller than the place I d lefthide spoiler It would be tempting to slightly mitigate Bernard s racism, by making both men realise what they have in common, but Andrea Levy s book issubtle, and does not fall into such an easy trap.There are many shades of prejudice explored in the novel, including the complex relationship between colour and class Hortense is perhaps the least likeable character in the novel, initially She is light skinned, and has been brought up as a lady At first, Hortense despises Gilbert for what she sees as his coarse manners, and looks down on Queenie for being less educated than she is As the book progresses, we see how Hortense develops respect for those she initially despised She begins to understand the challenges black Britons were facing, and the difficulties of those who were struggling against post war conditions, whilst accepting the new immigrants in their community It is one of the most moving aspects of the book.Small Island is too thoughtful a novel to resolve everything in a neat package, tied with a fancy ribbon, by means of some convenient deus ex machina Andrea Levy does have a surprise in store however, which catches most of its characters and its readers off guard Yet Gilbert, Hortense, Queenie and Bernard all remain trapped by their circumstances, and in their own stories They are allsympathetic to us than they are to one another It is not a conventional happy ending, but it is an ending fit for the time, and one which offers them hope We are left with the realisation that war causes casualties everywhere both physical and psychological, as well as individual and societal Small Island sometimes makes the reader appalled at the intolerance recorded by history, but it is ultimately an uplifting and thought provoking read


  3. Christine Christine says:

    I loved this book, but I realize that I am very biased because I am Jamaican, and have many relatives who emigrated to the UK from Jamaica, so the characters were immediately real and recognizable to me Some reviewers have complained that her use of dialect was heavy handed, but from my perspective, she actually tones down Jamaican Patois also called Jamaican Creole significantly to make it understandable to non Jamaicans On a visit to Jamaica last year, I heard her interviewed and she said I loved this book, but I realize that I am very biased because I am Jamaican, and have many relatives who emigrated to the UK from Jamaica, so the characters were immediately real and recognizable to me Some reviewers have complained that her use of dialect was heavy handed, but from my perspective, she actually tones down Jamaican Patois also called Jamaican Creole significantly to make it understandable to non Jamaicans On a visit to Jamaica last year, I heard her interviewed and she said she was writing as much for Jamaicans as for a wider audience, and she knew the book wouldn t ring true to us if the characters didn t speak patois much of the time.I think it s a fascinating look at the first wave of West Indian immigrants to the place they had been taught to think of as the mother country , and the responses they received from white Britons when they arrived I particularly liked the part that was set in the Jamaica of the 1940 s Thought the ending was a little too neat, but it didn t diminish my love of the book


  4. Sawsan Sawsan says:

    Small Island is the fourth novel of the British author Andrea Levy, portray the life of the Jamaican immigrants in England after WW2, and their struggle to establish new life in a society of white majority a story of post war migration, narrated from four different perspectives two white and black couples Levy handled the themes of empire, colonialism and war, focussing on the topics of racism, identity and mixed race


  5. Nandakishore Varma Nandakishore Varma says:

    No man is an island Said John Donne But the reality is, everyone is At least in their minds That is what this novel tells us.This is the story of four people Hortense Roberts, a teacher Gilbert Joseph, an airman both Jamaicans and the British couple Victoria Queenie Bligh and the bank clerk Bernard Bligh But it also the story of two nations, England and the West Indies, as reflected in the very private lives and thoughts of these people.Both Hortense and Gilbert want to escape fr No man is an island Said John Donne But the reality is, everyone is At least in their minds That is what this novel tells us.This is the story of four people Hortense Roberts, a teacher Gilbert Joseph, an airman both Jamaicans and the British couple Victoria Queenie Bligh and the bank clerk Bernard Bligh But it also the story of two nations, England and the West Indies, as reflected in the very private lives and thoughts of these people.Both Hortense and Gilbert want to escape from their small island of Jamaica to the Mother country England right, the capital of the British Empire, which they consider themselves proud to be part of Gilbert even things himself entitled, as he has fought for his country in the Second World War, which has just ended Unfortunately for them, the mother does want to have to do anything with these coloured sons and daughters The latent racism of the white man, which was subdued during the war, has come to forefront with a vengeance in the abject poverty of post war England So the Jamaicans find themselves unwelcome visitors on the English shore.Hortense has married Gilbert, partly because he looks like her childhood crush Michael, and partly to get a passage to England Gilbert has also married Hortense because she has promised to finance his trip abroad but also because he is sexually attracted to her In England, they lodge at the house of Queenie Bligh, whom Gilbert had fancied at one point of time in dismal lodgings to the horror of Hortense The neighbourhood is unhappy at Queenie s taking in of coloured lodgers And the situation is worsened by the return of Bernard Bligh from India, where he had been posted during the war Bernard, colonialist and racist to the core, wants these blacks out of his house something which Queenie refuses to countenance.And as tensions mount, there is the sudden unexpected denouement which throws the whole story off its wheels The climax, when it comes, is comprised in equal measures of tragic irony and slapstick comedy and then it all winds down to a softly sentimental finale Andrea Levy uses her characters as metaphor The tensions of race and nation are encapsulated in the voices of her four protagonists In this, she resembles Paul Scott But whereas Scott s voice is poignant and multilayered, rather like that of Faulkner, Levy s is extremely blunt There is no sugar coating I found all her protagonists except Queenie rather unlikeable, though one could sympathise with them She has done a brilliant job of creating multiple voices, with totally different ways of expressing themselves At the same time, there is a unity to the narrative.And the metaphor works, without being intrusive It is what saved this novel from being the tripe it could easily have been especially with the contrived and convoluted narrative


  6. Petra-X Petra-X says:

    I wanted to enjoy this book because I am a West Indian now and did the reverse journey first world UK to backward little Caribbean island, but the journey was a lotenjoyable than the book.I finished it by an act of will and apart from odd scenes of violence or lasciviousness, it didn t hold my attention It was such an easy read that the pages flowed into each other leaving no trace on my brain at all Like the sea washing the sand clean with each wave, so did each page disappear from my I wanted to enjoy this book because I am a West Indian now and did the reverse journey first world UK to backward little Caribbean island, but the journey was a lotenjoyable than the book.I finished it by an act of will and apart from odd scenes of violence or lasciviousness, it didn t hold my attention It was such an easy read that the pages flowed into each other leaving no trace on my brain at all Like the sea washing the sand clean with each wave, so did each page disappear from my memory as the next one was read Bye Small Island, I ve moved on and forgotten you now


  7. Angela Angela says:

    Fantastic novel, a real eye opener Small Island is a novel that connects continents in wartime It takes the reader from Jamaica to England and on to India in the days of the second World War Four main characters connect the dots A Gilbert, a young Jamaican who joins the RAF to fight Hitler but finds himself fighting racism instead Queenie, a young white woman who takes in Jamaican Lodgers her husband Bernard, who is fighting the Japs in India and the Jamaican girl Hortense, who travels to Fantastic novel, a real eye opener Small Island is a novel that connects continents in wartime It takes the reader from Jamaica to England and on to India in the days of the second World War Four main characters connect the dots A Gilbert, a young Jamaican who joins the RAF to fight Hitler but finds himself fighting racism instead Queenie, a young white woman who takes in Jamaican Lodgers her husband Bernard, who is fighting the Japs in India and the Jamaican girl Hortense, who travels to England, the revered Mother Country, to try her luck as a teacherAndrea Levy s writing is absolutely delicious Never a word too much, never a detail too many, so full of life and colour I simply devoured the book But added to that it is a great read on interracial relationships and interactions in England during the Second World War, where Jamaicans, Americans, Brits and many others tried to make sense of skin color, race, social status, and what all that should signify when surviving the same war Where mainstream history books talk about the war in terms of Europeans, the Canadians, the Americans and the Japs, Small Island sheds a much needed light on all those who fought the war.A must read for Literature Lovers, and a must read for those who are interested in interracial relationships, culture ex change, race and racism, the Caribbean, and the Second World War


  8. Paul Paul says:

    Mixed feelings about this one read very easily and the historical context is one that interests me However it did not really do what I thought it set out do, which was to chronicle the early years of the Windrush generation There are four narrators Hortense and Gilbert from Jamaica and Queenie and Bernard who are English although Bernard feels like a bit of an add on, arriving in the last quarter of the book That makes the book feel a little disjointed A great deal of time is also spent Mixed feelings about this one read very easily and the historical context is one that interests me However it did not really do what I thought it set out do, which was to chronicle the early years of the Windrush generation There are four narrators Hortense and Gilbert from Jamaica and Queenie and Bernard who are English although Bernard feels like a bit of an add on, arriving in the last quarter of the book That makes the book feel a little disjointed A great deal of time is also spent with the earlier lives of three of the protagonists Too much time, I think for the length of the novel I think Levy is trying to write three novels in one Firstly, life in Jamaica and Britain in the late 1920s and 1930s Secondly, the war and the experiences of West Indian servicemen and interactions with locals and GIs Thirdly, Windrush and beyond That s all too much for one novel to take As a consequence all three areas suffer I also felt that the characters lacked something, which again may be as a result of trying to cram too much in On the whole I prefer David Dabydeen sthoughtful approach to the topic One part that did ring true was the racism in the white community, which I remember from the late 1960s and early 1970s I particularly remember the unthinking and irrational nature of it which Levy portays well This was a source of puzzlement to me as a child as I saw my elders behaving in ways which I thought were rude and inhuman Levy describes the surprise and disappointment of the new arrivals as the encounter post war London.All in all a bit of a varied mixture which tried to do too much


  9. Antonomasia Antonomasia says:

    4.5 Middlebrow fiction as it should be done entertaining, readable but not without substance a book you still look forward to picking up when you re using most of your spare time for things other than reading Levy makes this kind of writing look easy, but there must be a lot of paddling going on under the surface to make the novel glide so smoothly No surprise that this was made into a BBC drama it certainly has that Sunday evening TV feel characters are entirely believeable as personal 4.5 Middlebrow fiction as it should be done entertaining, readable but not without substance a book you still look forward to picking up when you re using most of your spare time for things other than reading Levy makes this kind of writing look easy, but there must be a lot of paddling going on under the surface to make the novel glide so smoothly No surprise that this was made into a BBC drama it certainly has that Sunday evening TV feel characters are entirely believeable as personalities, and there s an excellent mixture of the soapy drama, big coincidences and the detail of everyday life in the past, the well trodden and the less so Accessible literary fiction set in the present can easily become dreary, but Small Island spans enough time, and an eventful enough time, that there s always something really happening, not just people staring into space and thinking whilst driving or cooking for pages and pages.It could be difficult to argue with someone who wanted to call this an issue novel about racism But maybe it depends on background I just didn t see it that way My grandparents came to Britain in the same decade as Gilbert and Hortense Okay, if they walked through an area where no one knew them or their names, they wore clothes that fitted in perfectly and they didn t speak, they would have been able to go about unremarked, unlike the Jamaican immigrants But that wasn t the way most people lived in the forties I still remember hearing about the racist bullying that went on in those days worst between kids and my incredulity that they weren t automatically assumed to be somewhat heroic due to the war As a kid I thought not in terms of colour but simply people who were, like me, partly not from here in a non pejorative sense, and those who were My first school best friend was Indian, and I feltat home with her than with the children who seemed entirely English So although American commentators on race in particular from a culture that has different attitudes to immigration that areclosely tied to colour make strong divides between black and white, my gut feeling givesaffinity with Gilbert and Hortense Before reading a lot of identity politics material, it never seemed necessary to explicitly and defensively point out the awareness I d always had that people from different countries or ethnic groups will have differing experiences related to that that was just, well, duh On page 525, there is a speech by Gilbert which points out among other things, no better, no worse than me just white which is fantastic as a balanced middle ground between the racists and the contemporary extremes of the internet social justice warrior tendency Surprised that paragraph isn t a GR quote Theaggressive racism of America is a significant feature of the book When the story follows Jamaican RAF volunteers during the war, it s white GIs who are violent, threatening and active proponents of segregation the Brits are merely rude on a frequent basis, and , then as now, the UK brand of racism xenophobia is as much about immigration as about colour, with the large numbers of recently arrived Czechs, Poles, Belgians and even Jews despite knowing what they d gone through , as well as the Windrush Jamaicans, being a focus for rants by racist characters Although once West Indian men start in working class jobs in England after the war when they manage to secure a job in the first place some colleagues are almost as unpleasant as the American soldiers Arguably, Queenie s bank clerk husband Bernard is too easy a villain , a prejudiced, conventional man who has few redeeming features other than perhaps punctuality Remember the old geek nerd dork etc distinctions Bernard is a dork or dweeb he has the ineptitude and narrow minded rigidity without better than average skills, and his context and anger means he s not Pooterishly amusing Thecomplex character of Queenie demonstrates that some racism is unthinking and conformity to attitudes a person grew up with a person who could be educated out of it, especially by first hand experience With Bernard it singrained and connected to other aspects of his character His narrative was bloody irritating to read and gave me all thesympathy for Queenie she had gone out with him because he was presentable, attentive and seemed like the right sort according to received opinion, and ended up marrying him simply so she didn t have to return to her parents Having been involved with a couple of similar types for short periods when I was younger, as rebound or for other expedient reasons, it made me very grateful that times had changed Small islanders is the Jamaican characters term for people from the smaller West Indian islands yokels and hicks, basically Travelling abroad they come to regard both Jamaica and the fabled imperial Mother Country of GB who turns out to be so uncaring and unwelcoming as small islands too It must be no accident that small island and small minded sound similar Stifling old fashioned attitudes are almost everywhere Even Queenie, who s bravely anti racist by the standards of her time and community, has no shortage of assumptions that would be unacceptable now One of the quieter tragedies of the novel is the similarity in personality and opinions between Queenie and Hortense the barriers that exist in everyone s heads make it impossible for the two women even to realise all the ways in which they re alike, let alone become friends as they may have been able to several decades later Small Island is a school text these days, and I think that s a good thing There are plenty of technical and character aspects for essays, plus some history and politics to make it seem worthwhile to kids who aren t interested in further literature study Perhaps it slikely to be used in schools with a good racial mix where it s only preaching to the converted, though some teachers will probably introduce it to areas where kids would benefit from thinkingabout these topics before they go to university or work Still, it s easy to criticise curricula and say how standards have fallen I would have approvedif this was a GCSE rather than an A Level book


  10. Christine Christine says:

    I m trying to figure out my reaction to this book, other than the fact that I loved it I have a hard time putting into words my feelings about this book Small Island is the story of four people in the aftermath of WW II Levy is concerned with the experience of immigrants and racial issues in post War London.I dont think the story could have been told in a shorter span, and it is one of those that you understand why it won the awards that it did I didn t find the dialect annoying or hard to fo I m trying to figure out my reaction to this book, other than the fact that I loved it I have a hard time putting into words my feelings about this book Small Island is the story of four people in the aftermath of WW II Levy is concerned with the experience of immigrants and racial issues in post War London.I dont think the story could have been told in a shorter span, and it is one of those that you understand why it won the awards that it did I didn t find the dialect annoying or hard to follow Of the four central characters, I found Bernard the hardest to relate to, though this does seem to be Levy s intention She has to capture a certain type, after all, for the book to work I also have to say that while I have never really liked Benedict Cumberpatch in anything I ve seen him, I think he was perfectly cast in the television adaption of this book He really is Bernard to a T.While all of the three remaining characters are relatable and human, the one that stands out the most is Hortense This is because her voice is so stand alone, so independent, so different, and so nailed Levy doesn t need any description of Hortense, she just needs to let Hortense speak and the reader can see her That s good writing.The book comments on the immigrant experience of traveling to a new country and realizing reality doesn t match the stories This is combined with various racial conflcits, racism, as well as classism Because of the alternately viewpoints, the reader has a far clearer picture of what is driving each of the characters,than the characters themselves The most interesting part, at least for this reader, was watching the interplay of class and race conflict Hortense is just as bigoted in her way as the English people are racist in thiers.The story deals with the two set of couples Queenie and Bernard Hortense and Gilbert and highlights the similarities and differences of each Both women marry for something other than love In many ways, the book is also about a married life where neither partner is sure of the other.And I think that is why I am having trouble naming what is so wonderful about this book There is so much going on in terms of theme If done incorrectly, it would fail, but Levy does it brillantly The book is so balanced that you don t even realize until you put it down what she did The ending is not a happy ending nor a sad one really It is a realstic ending, despite a contrived point concerning it It s realism puts the reader on shakey ground It s an ending that makes you think about everything Levy has been writing about It reminds of a movie I saw on the Sundance Channel called Cass The movie was about a football holigan who was black but raised by a white family when that was not the normal The movie was aboutthan beating up fans of the opposing team This book is somethingthan advertised It brings to light a time that was overshadowed by the time before, and than,importantly, gets the reader to think about everything in the world.Update I feel that I should point out that I like Mr Cumberpatch in Sherlock as well