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143 of 153 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Small Shall Have Prizes
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...
Published on 18 Jan 2005 by John Self

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40 of 46 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Educational and historical
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...
Published on 8 April 2006 by Jaycee


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143 of 153 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Small Shall Have Prizes, 18 Jan 2005
This review is from: Small Island (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. If she puts a foot wrong, it may be in the particular details (can't give it away) of the central coincidence which drives the major 'twist' of the book - the world's not that small an island, surely - but if you already love the book by then, you'll shrug and let it go.
Small Island, then, is an exceptional achievement, an outright, downright, upright, leftright masterpiece. There's something for everyone - the formal artistry of the four voices, the back-and-forward structure, the crossing and recrossing of fates, the heartwrenching losses, the sparky dialogue. I'm just sorry that it's only the 18th of January as I write this because then it sounds like a gag when I say it's the best book I've read all year. But you know what I mean.
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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
This review is from: Small Island (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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39 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent book on many levels., 10 July 2006
By 
DubaiReader "MaryAnne" (Rowlands Castle, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Small Island (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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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars RAF Blues, 11 Jun 2004
This review is from: Small Island (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
This review is from: Small Island (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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fast moving easy read, 29 July 2010
This review is from: Small Island (Paperback)
This book starts off with a jamaican girl called Hortense arriving on the doorsteps of an English landlady called Queenie.The other characters are Gilbert Joseph who is Hortense Husband and Bernard who is Queenies husband.It goes back into the past of each of the 4 characters and is centred around the racism against blacks in England at the time and then brings you to 1948 the present time when all meet.

At times it makes you laugh when the writer tries to bring out the character of each person.E.G.Hortense is a haute taute Jamacain women,Queenie is a lonely typical middle class English women whose husband goes to war, Bernard is a real goose and Gilbert is a charming Black Jamaican.

Enjoyed this book as quite funny but also brought out the realism of racism at the timeduring and after the war.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Human Story of Empire and Race, Nationality and Nationhood, 27 Mar 2006
By 
Martin Greenwood (San Diego, CA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Small Island (Paperback)
This excellent story tells of the arrival of a Jamaican couple in London soon after the end of the War, and how their lives converge with those of an English couple with whom they take lodgings. These four central characters take turns to tell us about their lives, and how they come to be who and where they are. The little tales that make up a life are told with humour and sensitivity, and make up the richness and fabric of the novel.
The book juxtaposes the secret war that Bernard fights against native insurgents in India, with the loyalty to the "Mother Country" shown by the Jamaicans. While the Jamaicans think of themselves as "Small Islanders" (coming from an outlying island), it is the English who live on a small island. In the end, though, the charcters find common ground in shared human values as their lives reach a dramatic confluence.
At times the story flows a little unevenly, and the structure could be better balanced. This is more than compensated for by the quality of the narrative and the convincing idiom and historical setting. With a lack of overt sentiment, the characters are restrained and reserved in a manner befitting the times. The understated way in which the drama is presented serves to heighten its emotional impact. This is a tale that is interesting to read, and poses important questions about the nature of empire and race, nationality and nationhood, without preaching. A very satisfying novel. Recommended.
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40 of 46 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Educational and historical, 8 April 2006
This review is from: Small Island (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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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Believe the Hype!, 26 Jan 2007
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This review is from: Small Island (Paperback)
Everyone I asked about the book could do nothing but tell me it was `very good'. This got me excited about the prospect of reading `Small Island' as well as worried; could the book really live up to the hype surrounding it or was I going to be disappointed as so many times before when reading a `5-star' book or watching a `must-see' film.

I was far from disappointed. This is a beautiful book!

Small Island is set around WWII, describing the lives of 4 people, who are all affected by the war in different ways.

Hortense, a black Jamaican woman, dreaming of her beloved Britain, unaware that Britain is not ready to embrace her.

Gilbert, also a black Jamaican, trying to provide for his wife and build a new life for himself in London.

Queenie, a white British woman, who paradoxically is liberated by the on-going war. Allowed to be something other than the wife of an utterly boring man. A man, it seems she was never really in love with.

And Bernard, a white British soldier stationed in India, taken away from the comfort of his daily routine.

It was interesting to read how being overtly racist was allowed and accepted within British and American society. It was particularly interesting considering the current controversy surrounding alleged racists remarks, throwing into question whether people have really moved on from the 1940's and 1950's and are more accepting of `difference' now. However, the author does not linger on the victims of racism or give a one-sided account, but instead demonstrates various characters' (black and white) strength to overcome prejudice and fight for acceptance and equality. More than a book about the past, it is a book about human interaction - the good, bad and beautiful.

I enjoyed every page and would say: Believe the hype and read the book.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A small place in a small world, 3 Nov 2006
By 
Peter Brown "Rojo y Verde" (Granada Spain) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Small Island (Paperback)
Small Island is very cleverly written and takes the reader carefully through the lives of its characters in immediate post war England and how they got there. Andrea Levy pulls no punches when she deals with racism but handles the issue very intelligently. Each character is built so that they become very real sadly though there is not enough about Bernard's early life to complete the picture. This book would a useful addition to any 'A' English Literature reading list. A book that can be read at different levels but as good as any history book for a picture of post war England and much more interesting.
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Small Island
Small Island by Andrea Levy (Paperback - 13 Sep 2004)
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