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Small Island, winner of both the Whitbread Book of the Year and the Orange Prize for Fiction, is a tour de force. Spirited and improbably funny, it offers the account of two very ordinary couples in postwar London. Hortense arrives from Jamaica in 1948 to make a home with her new husband, Gilbert. But in a place where the buildings are taller, the weather colder, and the sky more gray than anything she's experienced, she begins to question the wisdom of her decision. It is Gilbert, her new husband and a man she barely knows, who reminds her why it is she has come so far. A war veteran struggling to make a home in the city, Gilbert questions his own resolve when he finds not a hero's welcome but prejudice, contempt, and nearly insurmountable odds. But he is befriended by Queenie, the couple's white landlady, whose own life is upended when her husband Bernard, long thought dead, returns from the war with a head full of memories and an aching heart.
This quartet of voices relates a story of the immigrant experience at once deeply intimate and richly expansive. With an incomparable eye for detail and nuance, an uncanny ear for the oddities lurking in language, and a genuine affection for the weaknesses of her all-too-human characters, Levy has fashioned a wholly engrossing sprawl of a novel that never fails to delight and entertain. (Summer 2005 Selection)
After winning the Orange Prize and the Whitbread Book of the Year Award, Levy's captivating fourth novel sweeps into a U.S. edition with much-deserved literary fanfare. Set mainly in the British Empire of 1948, this story of emigration, loss and love follows four characters two Jamaicans and two Britons as they struggle to find peace in postwar England. After serving in the RAF, Jamaican Gilbert Joseph finds life in his native country has become too small for him. But in order to return to England, he must marry Hortense Roberts she's got enough money for his passage and then set up house for them in London. The pair move in with Queenie Bligh, whose husband, Bernard, hasn't returned from his wartime post in India. But when does Bernard turn up, he is not pleased to find black immigrants living in his house. This deceptively simple plot poises the characters over a yawning abyss of colonialism, racism, war and the everyday pain that people inflict on one another. Levy allows readers to see events from each of the four character's' point of view, lightly demonstrating both the subjectivity of truth and the rationalizing lies that people tell themselves when they are doing wrong. None of the characters is perfectly sympathetic, but all are achingly human. When Gilbert realizes that his pride in the British Empire is not reciprocated, he wonders, "How come England did not know me?" His question haunts the story as it moves back and forth in time and space to show how the people of two small islands become inextricably bound together. Agent, David Grossman. (Apr.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Adult/High School-This novel examines class, race, and prejudice in London in 1948, when a new multiracial England began to form. Through four principal narrators comprising two married couples, the author brings to life the dreams and fears of a generation. Gilbert, a Jamaican newlywed who served in the RAF during World War II, hopes for a prosperous future in London, though his experience of racial discrimination tells him this won't be achieved easily. His young wife, Hortense, is more naive. Arriving from the colonies prepared to take up a teaching career, she is soon in despair over rude rejections and her struggle to make herself understood, literally and figuratively, by white working-class neighbors who don't seem to comprehend the pristine English she learned on her home island. Even the small comforts provided by their affable landlady are soured when Queenie's long-missing husband returns and is less than pleased to meet the black boarders. As these mismatched pairs relate their sides of the story, the author's linguistic skill pitches their voices perfectly within time and place. Though none of the characters is very likable, all are nuanced personalities who make the book intriguing and believable throughout, even a final plot twist involving a coincidence of Dickensian proportions. Affecting, funny, and sad, this is a masterful depiction of a society on the verge of major changes.-Starr E. Smith, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
The winner of the 2004 Whitbread Book of the Year Award and the 2004 Orange Prize-the first writer to win both for the same novel-draws on her Jamaican background in the alluring story of two couples, one Jamaican and one English, whose paths cross in WWII-era England. The Jamaican Gilbert Joseph volunteers for the Royal Air Force, but life in England isn't what he expected, with its tasteless boiled food and insidious racism. After the war, he returns to Jamaica but still hopes to study law in England, and when Hortense, a Jamaican teacher, offers him the money to travel to England if he'll marry her, he agrees-only to discover, back in England, that he cannot study law and the best job he can find is as a postal-truck driver. When Hortense joins him six months later, she is not only shocked by his threadbare fifth-floor room but offended by the prejudice she encounters and discouraged when her Jamaican teacher's credential is rejected. In the story of the adjustments these bright, well-educated and dignified immigrants must make, Gilbert's earthiness offers a delicious counterpoint to Hortense's prideful ambition. Other voices include that of the Josephs' white landlady, Queenie Bligh, the daughter of a provincial butcher, and of her husband Bernard, an older bank clerk in India with the RAF. Queenie meets Gilbert during the war, when he once brings her wandering father-in-law back to her home. The father-in-law, shell-shocked in WWI, is killed by an MP during a brawl at the movies caused when Gilbert refuses to follow the "rules" that segregate the theater racially. When her husband Bernard doesn't come home to their big London house after the war, Queenie takes in lodgers, includingGilbert and Hortense. The growing tensions among the three-and the disruption when Bernard returns at last-bring a spellbinding story to a surprising, heart-rending climax. An enthralling tour de force that animates a chapter in the history of empire. This is Levy's fourth novel, but first U.S. publication.
“It's all here: exceptional dialogue, clever narrative, and a rich story that tells us something new about our shared history on a planet that is increasingly small and yet will always be inhabited by individuals possessed, at our best, by singular consciousness and desire.” Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
“There is a great skill in the way she presents characters and dialogue; she has powers of observation and an ear for language that make her books a pleasure to read.” Times Literary Supplement (UK)
“Andrea Levy gives us a new, urgent take on our past.” Vogue
“A perfectly crafted tale of crossed lives and oceans . . . Happily, the hype is warrantedSmall Island is a triumph.” San Francisco Chronicle
“Andrea Levy's beautifully wrought novel is a window into 1948 England. . . . A bristling, funny, angry tale of love and sacrifice.” Entertainment Weekly
“Levy tells a good story, and she tells it wellusing narrative voices across time and space as she revisits the conventions of the historical novel and imagines the hopes and pains of the immigrant's saga anew.” The Washington Post
“Familiar cultural observations in closely observed and surprising lives . . . Levy's writing deftly illuminates the complex and contradictory motives behind each character's behavior.” The New Yorker