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The Lonely Londoners (Penguin Modern Classics) [Paperback]

Sam Selvon , Nasta Susheila
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
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Book Description

27 July 2006 Penguin Modern Classics

Both devastating and funny, The Lonely Londoners is an unforgettable account of immigrant experience - and one of the great twentieth-century London novels. This Penguin Modern Classics edition includes an introduction by Susheila Nasta.

At Waterloo Station, hopeful new arrivals from the West Indies step off the boat train, ready to start afresh in 1950s London. There, homesick Moses Aloetta, who has already lived in the city for years, meets Henry 'Sir Galahad' Oliver and shows him the ropes. In this strange, cold and foggy city where the natives can be less than friendly at the sight of a black face, has Galahad met his Waterloo? But the irrepressible newcomer cannot be cast down. He and all the other lonely new Londoners - from shiftless Cap to Tolroy, whose family has descended on him from Jamaica - must try to create a new life for themselves. As pessimistic 'old veteran' Moses watches their attempts, they gradually learn to survive and come to love the heady excitements of London.

Sam Selvon (b. 1923) was born in San Fernando, Trinidad. In 1950 Selvon left Trinidad for the UK where after hard times of survival he established himself as a writer with A Brighter Sun (1952), An Island is a World (1955), The Lonely Londoners (1956), Ways of Sunlight (1957), Turn Again Tiger (1958), I Hear Thunder (1963), The Housing Lark (1965), The Plains of Caroni (1970), Moses Ascending (1975) and Moses Migrating (1983).

If you enjoyed The Lonely Londoners, you might like Jean Rhys's Voyage in the Dark or Shiva Naipaul's Fireflies, also available in Penguin Modern Classics.

'His Lonely Londoners has acquired a classics status since it appeared in 1956 as the definitive novel about London's West Indians'

Financial Times

'The unforgettable picaresque ... a vernacular comedy of pathos'


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Product details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (27 July 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141188413
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141188416
  • Product Dimensions: 0.9 x 12.8 x 19.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 817 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


This is Selvon's best work. It explores the lives of a group of West Indians mainly Trinidadians and Jamaicans who leave the Caribbean to live in London. They came looking for a better life and what they found was bitter coldness both from the unforgivable winters and the cold prejudice of the people they encounter.
They experience hunger and hopelessness, discrimination for jobs and on the job but they are able to survive.
It tells much about the spirit of the West Indian abroad.
I would recommend this book to anyone who both want to learn more about West Indian people and who enjoy a good laugh.
It is Selvon at his best.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Sam Selvon (1923) was born in San Fernando (Trinidad). In 1950 Selvon left Trinidad for the UK where after hard times of survival he established himself as a writer with A Brighter Sun (1952), An Island is a World (1955), The Lonely Londoners (1956), Ways of Sunlight (1957) Turn Again Tiger (1958) I Hear Thunder (1963), The Housing Lark (1965) The Plains of Caroni (1970) Those Who Eat the Cascadura (1972), Moses Ascending (1975) and Moses Migrating (1983). Susheila Nasta is a literary critic, editor, teacher and broadcaster. She is Research Lecturer in Literature at the Open University, Associate Fellow, Institute of English Studies, University of London, and Editor of Wasafiri.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
One grim winter evening, when it had a kind of unrealness about London, with a fog sleeping restlessly over the city and the lights showing in the blur as if is not London at all but some strange place on another planet, Moses Aloetta hop on a number 46 bus at the corner of Chepstow Road and Westbourne Grove to go to Waterloo to meet a fellar who was coming from Trinidad on the boat-train. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
71 of 74 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Only The Lonely 17 Sep 2006
By Stewart
First published in 1956, Trinidadian born, Sam Selvon, began his London based fictions with a short novel called The Lonely Londoners. It's set during a time when many West Indians were emigrating from a life of sunshine to the British Isles, believing, like many emigrants, that the streets were paved with gold. Of course, this is London we're talking about; there's no gold.

The book, for the most part follows the fortunes of Moses Aloetta, a Trinidadian who has lived in London for years, as his life meets tangentially with others. His time is spent between his job, in which he is paid a meagre wage, and heading on down to Waterloo to meet the latest influx of West Indians.

There all manner of characters coming to London, and not only from the West Indies. Shiftless ladies' man Cap, for example, is Nigerian. But the majority are coming from Trinidad and Jamaica. Local prejudice tends to label all the black immigrants as being Jamaican, which rankles Moses. Other characters include Henry Oliver (nicknamed Sir Galahad), a young kid looking to start over in London; Tolroy, who on writing home to say he gets paid five pounds a week, wasn't intending the letter to be an invitation for his whole family to join him; Five Past Twelve, an ex-soldier always on the scrounge; Big City, who has always been captivated by urban living yet can't quite integrate; and Harris, a man who has found himself in London yet is still tied to the burgeoning black community.

The novel follows their fortunes as they come to Moses for help, as they crash in on each others' lives, and flirt with the white women who see them as a novelty; all the time wondering if they will ever return home. Through all this, though, there's a sense of unease.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Amazing Atmosphere But I Didnt Get Attached 8 Sep 2010
By Simon Savidge Reads TOP 1000 REVIEWER
As `The Lonely Londoners' opens we meet Moses Aloetta who is on his way to meeting a group of people who have newly arrived in the city from the West Indies. Moses having lived in London for quite some time is an initially rather begrudging welcoming committee. This is the 1950s a period after the war when many people from many countries came to the UK to find their fortune. While a small amount of them did (and these were very few and far between) most people however ended up working for anything they could get and Moses in his heart of heart is homesick. He is there to meet Henry `Sir Galahad' Oliver and through these two characters and people they know we get snippets of peoples lives.

Selvon does something for me with this book which I both loved and found rather difficult all at once and I am not talking about the fact its written in a creolized voice, that actually helped the book come more alive for me. No, the difficult things is there is no exact narrative be it first person, second or third. It flits from scene to scene and person to person which whilst creating an incredible sense of London and its atmosphere at the time is actually rather confusing and disorientating. I couldn't get a grip on the characters emotionally even though characters such as the gutsy Tanty (who is one of the only women in the book and doesn't get mentioned much, the book to me really lost something on not having one main female voice or outlook) and Moses himself made the book really interesting in parts. I never became attached to any of them though and so, and this might make me sound callous, I ended up not caring. I also hated the misogynistic attitude of some of the characters like Cap, who seemed to somehow sleep with every woman be they black or white and treat them like garbage.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
This is a beautiful book - well worth reading no matter where you are from. As a Canadian living in London in 2011, I can really relate to so much in this book - it's one of the best books I have read, and I've read a few!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read as a Chinese in Britian 26 Mar 2012
The reading experience of this tragi-comedy book the lonely Londoner would be laughing with tears in grief. Set in 1956 Post war Britain, the booming economy draw many people from its former colonies come to Britain with dreams, fantasy that 'the street paved with Gold.' While present, distinct from the past, we see policies aiming at reducing flows of migrants etc and getting into UK esp for work is extremely hard. As a Chinese in Britain nowadays, I would say still I feel myself really attached to the book. Certainly, I'm quite different from the people in this book, mainly for that I'm a student not go to UK for work. But many people I know from Chinese community in the UK including myself also experience the same problem of integration, racism , loneliness, homesickness etc. The feelings stay the same across the race, across the time. During my reading, at certain points I could feel that it is exactly depicting our Chinese group!For example, people who are trying hard to mix with English people, but sometimes it is too hard so we give up and only end up sticking closely with our own people; people who takes pride in making boy/girl friends with white person; people who acts more English even than the native English people would do,and the certain type of 'resetaurant' jobs typically for us as the heavy manual work for West Indies etc.

For , I think the reason that isolate Chinese migrants from other groups of people is that language barrier and too reserved personality. People there don't really have an adequate sense of happiness mainly due to the loneliness, which is the main theme in the book.

But a lot of Chinese migrants too have been trapped in this very embarrassing situation that is 'neither forward or backward' .
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A different perspective.
Gives a good understanding of the mood and culture of that time.
Published 9 days ago by Jonnor
5.0 out of 5 stars Glad to have been introduced to Mr Selvon - very ...
Free Open University material led me to this novel. Glad to have been introduced to Mr Selvon - very thought provoking.
Published 1 month ago by Susie
3.0 out of 5 stars The Lonely Londoners
Bought for OU coursework. Unlike anything else I have read and an engaging text, with insights into the mind of the Caribbean migrant, but not a book I would have chosen to read... Read more
Published 3 months ago by essieb
5.0 out of 5 stars Sam Selvon - The Lonely Londoners
This is a story of a host of West-Indian emigrants arriving in London for the first time in the 1950s, we watch as they come to terms with such a foreign culture and work to find... Read more
Published 4 months ago by molko
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential post-colonialist reading
Selvon's haunting commentary of the impoverished post-Windrush slums of London provides an excellent addition to the bibliography of anyone with an interest in post-colonialism. Read more
Published 4 months ago by P. Richards
3.0 out of 5 stars I Was Bought This As A Present
I was bought this book as a present from a friend after an unhappy stay in London - as a piece of colour writing (excuse the pun) it excells; the crumbling tennements of Notting... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Dan Smith
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent read
The book is evocative of London in the fifties, as seen from a newly arrived West Indian point of view a very bewildering city.
Published 5 months ago by Mr.D Mann
5.0 out of 5 stars Great for telling it as it was
Really good view of how things were and the experiences of West Indians coming to the UK - after an INVITE from the UK government Well recommended.
Published 5 months ago by CRT2212
5.0 out of 5 stars One of my favorite books ever!
And one I can read again and again. I was never that into reading fiction in my spare time and this was actually a book we were told to read for college. Read more
Published 7 months ago by charlotte eldridge
4.0 out of 5 stars A really interesting, enjoyable and important book.
The Lonely Londoners is wonderful. Sam Selvon beautifully evokes immigrant life in 1950s London for various characters who have come to London from the West Indies for work and... Read more
Published 10 months ago by nigeyb
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