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Small Island [Hardcover]

Andrea Levy
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (200 customer reviews)

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Book Description

2 Feb 2004

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.



Product details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Headline Review; First Edition, First Printing edition (2 Feb 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0755307496
  • ISBN-13: 978-0755307494
  • Product Dimensions: 20 x 15.4 x 4.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (200 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 302,478 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Andrea Levy was born in England to Jamaican parents who came to Britain in 1948. She has lived all her life in London. After attending writing workshops when she was in her mid-thirties, Levy began to write the novels that she, as a young woman, had always wanted to read - entertaining novels that reflect the experiences of black Britons, which look closely and perceptively at Britain and its changing population and at the intimacies that bind British history with that of the Caribbean. She has written four previous novels, Every Light in the House Burnin', Never Far From Nowhere, Fruit of the Lemon and Small Island. She has been a judge for the Orange Prize for Fiction, Orange Futures and the Saga Prize, and has been a recipient of an Arts Council Award.
Her second novel, Never Far From Nowhere, was long listed for the Orange Prize, and her most recent novel, Small Island, won the Orange Prize for Fiction, the Orange Prize for Fiction: Best of the Best, the Whitbread Novel Award, the Whitbread Book of the Year Award and the Commonwealth Writers' Prize. It has now been adapted into a major BBC TV drama.

Product Description

Review

'What makes Levy's writing so appealing is her even-handedness. All her characters can be weak, hopeless, brave, good, bad - whatever their colour. The writing is rigorous and the bittersweet ending, with its unexpected twist, touching... People can retain great dignity, however small their island' Independent on Sunday, 25/1/04 (Independent on Sunday)

'A brilliantly deft and humane account of two ordinary couples in post-war London' Evening Standard, 3 February 2004 (Evening Standard)

'Small Island is never less than finely-written, delicately and often comically observed, and impressively rich in detail and little nuggets of stories' Evening Standard, 2 February 2004 (Evening Standard)

'Every scene is rich in implication, entrancing and disturbing at the same time; the literary equivalent of a switch-back ride' The Sunday Times, 29/2/04 (The Sunday Times)

'Small Island is as full of warmth and jokes and humanity as you could wish...Such a rich saga, stuffed full of interlocking narratives' Time Out, 2 February 2004 (Time Out)

'An involving saga about the changing face of Britain' Mirror, 6 February 2004 (Mirror)

'It's an engrossing read - slyly funny, passionately angry and wholly involving' Daily Mail, 6 February 2004 (Daily Mail)

'I know it is a fiction, but I emerged from the book full of admiration for the patience and resilience of that generation...Levy has written one of those rare fictions that tells you things you didn't know but feel you should have known...the writing is deft and striking, without being pretentious' Sunday Herald, 8/2/04 (Sunday Herald)

'With this funny, tender, intelligent fourth novel Andrea Levy looks set to become as commercially popular as she is critically acclaimed' Sainsbury's magazine, February 2004 (Sainsbury's magazine)

'A bevy of luminaries have garlanded Andrea Levy's fourth novel with advance praise - and it's no surprise. Using elements of her own family background, Levy has vividly animated London in the immediate aftermath of World War II... She weaves a wonderfully detailed and vibrant story' Red magazine, February 2004 issue (Red magazine, February 2004 issue)

'Wonderful...seamless...a magnificent achievement' Linda Grant (Linda Grant)

'An impressive break-through novel' Publishing News, 23/1/04 (Publishing News)

'A terrific book' Alan Plater (Alan Plater)

'A cracking good read...I think what appealed to me most was the passion and anger in the writing all the way through, yet it was always leavened with a particularly wry sort of humour - the sort that, tho' you find yourself smiling, you at the same time realise you almost shouldn't be' Margaret Forster (Margaret Forster)

'I enjoyed SMALL ISLAND enormously and wish it every success. It conjures up so vividly the era of the 1940's and expresses so vividly through the lives of its four protagonists the conflicts and racist attitudes that existed at that time. A wonderful insight into a little understood period' Joan Bakewell (Joan Bakewell)

'It is a work of great imaginative power which ranks alongside Sam Selvon's THE LONELY LONDONERS, George Lamming's THE EMIGRANTS and Caryl Phillips' THE FINAL PASSAGE in dealing with the experience of migration' Linton Kwesi Johnson (Linton Kwesi Johnson)

'A worthy winner of the 2004 Orange Prize for Fiction...Levy does not set out to preach, and her light touch, wry humour and down-to-earth, almost gossipy tone make this novel as readable as it is challenging' The Sunday Times, 19/9/04 (The Sunday Times)

'Soon you will be enchanted. It is good enough to compete against anything written this year' Jasper Gerard, News Review, Sunday Times 13/6/04 (Jasper Gerard, News Review, Sunday Times)

'Small Island is an astonishing tour de force by Andrea Levy. Juggling four voices, she illuminates a little known aspect of recent British history with wit and wisdom. A compassionate account of the problems of post war immigration, it cannot fail to have a strong modern resonance' Sandi Toksvig, Orange Prize judge, 8/6/04 (Sandi Toksvig, Orange Prize judge)

'Levy tactfully delves into her family history while tackling the heavy issues of prejudice, assimilation and love in the ordinary lives of Jamaican migrants' MX, Melbourne, 31/5/04 (MX, Melbourne)

'Small Island is a brilliant picture of the dented dreams of Jamaicans in post-war Britain' Financial Times, Dec 04 (Financial Times)

'Levy handles themes of empire, prejudice, war and love with a lightness of touch and an uplifting generosity of spirit' Age, Melbourne, 26/11/04 (Age, Melbourne)

'Levy offers her readers rich satisfaction from both story and character' The Times, 10/7/04 (The Times)

'This won the Orange prize for its insight, compassion, wealth of historical details and its cracking plot' Independent on Sunday, 11/7/04 (Independent on Sunday)

'Levy's book brings freshness and humour as well as indignation and pity to its survey of social and racial prejudice half a century ago' The Sunday Times, 28/11/04 (The Sunday Times)

'Levy's trinity of voices gently refutes the idea that the story of West Indian immigration has anything to do with (free) teeth or glasses' Guardian, 9/10/04 (Guardian)

'A touching, eloquently written story...Andrea Levy expertly captures the turbulence of a time of momentous change' Sunday Telegraph, 17/10/04 (Sunday Telegraph)

'Small Island is a slyly humorous, rich feast of a book' Mail on Sunday, 17/10/04 (Mail on Sunday)

'It's more than a novel, it's a recreation of a largely unexplored episode of our history...the narrative voices seem so authentic that it is easy to become lost in their sometimes dark, sometimes joyous worlds' Daily Express, 15/10/04 (Daily Express)

'Levy's must-read novel seems to gain stature with time' Sunday Express magazine, 12/6/05 (Sunday Express magazine)

'A spellbinding story... An enthralling tour de force that animates a chapter in the history of empire' Kirkus Reviews, 15/2/05 (Kirkus Reviews)

'Here is the book I have been waiting for... an ample, sprawling story of nearly 450 pages, mirroring an expansive inner and outer landscape, spanning two islands and three continents, and incorporating a hybrid cast of humanly idiosyncratic characters; and above all, a book in which the author, Andrea Levy, never once forgets she is telling a story, delighting us, improbably, in this nasty tale of race, with the effervescent style of Dickens' Globe & Mail, Toronto, 12/6/04 (Globe & Mail, Toronto)

'What a deserved winner she is. It was a very good shortlist but in my opinion Small Island stood out at the longlist stage - for its writing, its wit and the impressively light touch she brought to the subject' Minette Walters, 15/6/04 (Minette Walters)

'Small Island operates on a larger canvas than Levy's previous novels. It's neither splashy nor experimental, but for thoughtfulness & wry humour cannot be faulted' Telegraph 21/2/04 (Telegraph)

'The uneducated fear, ignorance and misunderstanding found in both the black and white communities are described with compassion and humour in a series of personal flashbacks which reveal the hidden goodness within all the characters. World War Two anecdotal background is startling; particularly the effect of GI segregation on a small rural town.

The final outcome is unexpected and moving. A thoroughly good read which will inevitably lead to discussion on the problems of multicultural societies' New Books mag May/June issue 2004

(New Books mag)

'Small Island is a great read, delivering the sort of pleasure which has been the traditional stock-in-trade of a long line of English novelists. It's honest, skilful, thoughtful and important. This is Andrea Levy's big book' Guardian 14/2/04 (Guardian)

'Andrea Levy gives us a new urgent take on our past' Vogue 13/2/04 (Vogue)

'[A] moving, funny, honest novel' Elle 13/2/04 (Elle)

'A beautifully crafted, compassionate novel, well worth reading' Bulletin with Newsweek, 4/5/04 (Bulletin with Newsweek, Australia)

'[Hortense] has guts and this portrait of her world is created with strong feeling that is subtly, and brilliantly, rendered' Sydney Morning Herald, 1/5/04 (Sydney Morning Herald)

'Funny, poignant and profoundly moving...Small Island deals with the weighty themes of empire, prejudice, love and war with such humour and compassion that Levy has been praised for her even-handedness by some, condemned for it by others' West Australian, 1/5/04 (West Australian)

'Levy's story is a triumph in perspective...a triumph of poise, organisation and deep, deep character - the sort of work that can only be achieved by an experienced novelist' Age, Melbourne 17/4/04 (Age, Melbourne)

'Everything about the plot, characters and clever end twist of SMALL ISLAND [is] beautifully drawn... This is an epic book that brings the patois of Jamaicans alive, fills the world of war-torn London with amazing detail and is a great history lesson about the era when England changed forever as migrants braved bitter racism to flood her shores' Herald Sun (Melbourne), 10/4/04 (Herald Sun (Melbourne))

Book Description

In this delicately wrought and profoundly moving novel, Andrea Levy handles the weighty themes of empire, prejudice, war and love, with a lightness of touch and a generosity of spirit that challenges and uplifts the reader.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
143 of 153 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Small Shall Have Prizes 18 Jan 2005
Format:Paperback
Andrea Levy's novel (her fourth, and how ashamed do I feel now for never having heard of her before?) has already won the Orange Prize and the Whitbread Novel award, and is now favourite on the shortlist for the overall Whitbread Book of the Year. It deserves them all. (And this is a message, too: the Whitbread is now the award to watch. Didn't it daringly give ostensibly a children's book the Book of the Year award in 2001 for Pullman's exceptional The Amber Spyglass? In the Booker this year, Small Island didn't even make the longlist.)
The 'today' of the novel is 1948, when Queenie Bligh has given up waiting for her husband Bernard to come back from his service in the Second World War, and to make ends meet has let rooms in her house out to immigrants from Jamaica, among them Gilbert Joseph and his wife Hortense. And that is Small Island in a sentence. But it takes us back through the four main characters' lives before and during the war, each speaking to us in their own voice. The ventriloquism is elegant and brilliantly managed, making us sympathetic to all the characters in turn, and gripped by their flowingly told stories; so much so that when they come into conflict at the end of the novel, we are as torn as they are, and don't know which way to turn.
There is tragedy and comedy everywhere in Small Island, and Levy seems incapable of misjudging the tone, whether she wants to depict casual racism, tender young friendship, cold middle-class romance, or the numb relentlessness of twentieth century warfare. The writing is frequently beautiful, and she has a way of approaching a new scene sidelong, rather than head-on, that brings the reader into it with freshness and curiosity. Minor characters come alive.
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40 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent book on many levels. 10 July 2006
By DubaiReader TOP 1000 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback
This book is well deserving of its accolades; Whitbread Book of the Year and the Orange Prize for fiction. It covers the period at the end of the Second World War, when men from the Commonwealth who'd fought on Britain's side emigrated to the "Mother Land", expecting a very different welcome.

The story is related by the four main characters. Two are from Jamaica, Hortense and Gilbert; more British than the British, they leave their homeland where they are respected members of a community, to seek their golden future. Gilbert hopes to train as a lawyer but finds prejudice against him and has to settle for a job driving a Royal Mail van. Hortense finds similar prejudice when she applies for a teaching job. With her impeccable manners and dress sense, she is horrified by the coarse way of life in her new home.

They take lodgings with Queenie, a great character, who is letting out rooms to make ends meet while her husband, Bernard, is fighting in India. It is assumed that he will not return, so when he suddenly reappears, the comfortable balance within the house is tipped. He demands that these 'coloureds' leave immediately.

There are a number of themes covered by the book, but the one that stuck with me was the problem encountered by men who had risked their lives to fight against Hitler and deserved recognition, but instead were treated with contempt when they arrived on British shores as civilians. Also that there were people, like Queenie, who ignored what other people thought and befriended these outcasts.

Highly recommended.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Very Small Island 21 Mar 2006
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
The author brilliantly tells this wartime tale of a Jamaican airman who returns to post war England with his young wife to find a less than welcoming populace awaiting them.The "small island" of the title is the derisory name Jamaicans give to the smaller sattelite islands whose populace have less than worldly ways.
The airman and his wife come to regard themselves,in turn,as small islanders lost in the strange,cold London of the 1940's.However, the reader soon finds the true "small island" to be a Britain given to insular attitudes and racial ignorance.
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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars RAF Blues 11 Jun 2004
Format:Hardcover
I read this book in two days, I thought a was reading the autobiography of my parents, except they came from Guyana. I arrived in England with my mother to Ladbroke Grove, via Liverpool in 1958. This book is accurate,poignant and painful I struggled to read past page 272, I could have written it myself. It is lyrical, humourous, sad, educative and evocative. I didn't want it to end. It deserves the Orange fiction prize well done Andrea.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Small Island - Big Novel 10 Feb 2007
Format:Paperback
This is the best novel I've read for some time. It manages to be entertaining, funny, serious and thought-provoking all at the same time. Some big issues are handled in a gentle and sensitive way. I thought the depiction of England during the war years was particularly vivid. I did prefer the chapters in first-person by the Jamaican characters (Hortense and Gilbert), but only because the insight and dialogue was often sharper and more colourful than that of their English counterparts (Queenie and Bernard). Some of Gilbert's quips are laugh-out-loud funny. It's a very easy book to read, and difficult to put down. I liked it a lot.
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41 of 47 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Educational and historical 8 April 2006
By Jaycee
Format:Paperback
I have not yet finished the book but have been compelled to write this review. Small Island for me has been entertaining as well as educational. As a black briton of Jamaican descent it has served as a historical account of what my grandparents may have experienced on coming to England shortly after the second world war. it also serves as a intimate view of how the British experience of the pre and post war England through an honest and emotive account of their feelings of a new multi cultural England that they had never encountered before.
subconcioulsy it reflects attitudes that both immigrants and inhabitants are still experiencing within England today. I have never read anything that attempts to do this. I simply must read on and I cannot wait for the twist at the end.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Small island
Captivating story. Wonderfully narrated. Moments of happiness mixed with unbelievable sadness of tragedy through racial hatred. Sorry it's finished now.
Published 20 hours ago by julie kings
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Fast delivery - as described
Published 2 days ago by Miss Joann Mackreth
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved the book and the delivery was exactly as described
Bought this book for my A level English Literature. Loved the book and the delivery was exactly as described
Published 11 days ago by Izzy
4.0 out of 5 stars Compelling reading
I enjoyed reading this fact based fiction. The author has is able to draw one into the characters and describes the fact based historic events of the era.
Published 17 days ago by 3 legs
4.0 out of 5 stars A warm, witty and interesting read
A book about dreams, realities and 'making do' during and after WII that's quite a bit different from other books of this era as it shows England from the perspective of Jamaicans... Read more
Published 18 days ago by J Hutch
5.0 out of 5 stars A riveting read
This book has been around since 2004 but it is as fresh to read now as it would have been 10 years ago. Read more
Published 19 days ago by Book fiend
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
great book
Published 1 month ago by teacherfi
4.0 out of 5 stars I enjoyed the Long Song hugely and loved this book as ...
I am rapidly becoming quite a fan of Andrea Levy. I enjoyed the Long Song hugely and loved this book as well. She writes so well that even though all the point of views are. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Jaqui P
5.0 out of 5 stars A great buy and read!!!!
One of the best books you will ever read in your life. It has all the emotions and drama of a book rooted in a particular history period. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Nicholas Cumberbatch
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Wonderfully written, lovely read.
Published 1 month ago by spud
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