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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Very Small Island
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...
Published on 21 Mar. 2006

versus
41 of 47 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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21 of 22 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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143 of 154 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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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 "MaryAnne" (Rowlands Castle, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(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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38 of 41 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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Small Island, 1 Sept. 2012
By 
Clare O'Beara - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Small Island (Paperback)
Living in Jamaica in 1948 seems constraining to many open-minded young people and Hortense has passed her teaching exams. She marries an ex-Air Force man, Gilbert, who lived in Britain during the war and felt the country offered opportunity. Upon arriving in Britain however he cannot get lodgings until Queenie admits him to her home.
Queenie has been waiting for her passionless husband Bernard to return from serving in India. Two years have passed and she has given him up for dead. She needs to make ends meet and Jamaicans pay rent just as well as anyone. The neighbours don't approve however.
We get the memories of these four people to show us what it was like living through the Blitz, or struggling against adversity, or trying to make a living when nobody will even speak to you or let you sit with them. The Americans come out as treating coloured people worst, because of the unconsciously overwhelming racism of their own society, so when they arrive in Britain as GIs they make all black people sit at the back of the cinema.
Queenie is a sympathetic character as is Hortense, and women are shown as being strong-minded and fairer than men, while often discriminated against in a different way.
Bernard is generally unlikeable but a product of his times, and we get to contrast him with his Army buddies in India.
Gilbert is a go-getter who tried investing in Jamaica but lost his money, and decides that he will swop one small island for another larger one.

To read more about civil change in Jamaica I recommend 'The Pirate's Daughter'.
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13 of 14 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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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Believe the Hype!, 26 Jan. 2007
By 
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Small Island, 1 Jan. 2015
By 
Keen Reader "lhendry4" (Auckland, New Zealand) - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Small Island (Paperback)
I picked this book up as it looked like a good and interesting read, and I was not disappointed.

The book is the story of four people, whose lives converge upon a point in time and place – 1948 in London. Hortense is a young woman whose sense of her own family has held her to her own high standards throughout her life growing up in Jamaica. Gilbert is her husband, but they hardly know each other when they start their lives together. He too has been brought up in Jamaica, but fought for his ‘mother country’ England in the War. Now he wants to start a new life there. Queenie is a young English woman whose life has led her from tough but honest beginnings to that of a woman in a troubled marriage. And Bernard, her husband loves her dearly but never seems to be able to connect emotionally with her. His fight in World War II is quite different from that of Gilbert.

The story converges on 1948 in a suburb of London; we hear a narrative of the main characters set in 1948, but we also hear their own first-person narratives from ‘Before’ – their lives as they grow up, what makes them the people that they are in 1948 when their lives meet.

The story tells of a microcosm, the lives of those four people, but it is a much broader canvas that it is is written upon – that of post-War England, the English people themselves, and the changes that war inevitably brings. New immigrants, people whose idea of life and propriety is often different from those of the ‘native’ English people. And changes to society as well; 1948 is a year of much change, and Queenie, Bernard, Hortense and Gilbert are indicators of that change. It’s a tale of cultural and societal prejudice, of war and change, of love and loss. But it is above all a tale of people.

A wonderful read, and a brilliant insight into a time that has passed, but which retains its humanity. This is a worthy winner of prizes for fiction, and it’s a pleasure to be able to read the 10th anniversary edition.
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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
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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