Saturday, January 16, 2010

Small Island

Just when I thought that I had read about every perspective on WW2, I came across Small Island by Andrea Levy, a novel that was the Whitbread Book of the Year in 2004 and shortlisted for five more literary book awards.

As always, I have no idea who recommended this book to me or if it was from a review, but Levy's depiction of Gilbert Joseph, Jamaican islander, who joins up with the R.A.F. to support "the mother country," is both poignant and hilarious. Levy is able to effectively present the Jamaican's disbelief that after serving in its military, the country is not interested in embracing the "black" man into their fold. It's not just the black men -- it's also the Americans.

{Who could blame that about the Americans? LOL -- we are totally jerks in this novel; she paints an ugly picture of our "cowboy" behavior.}

Set in London in 1948, Levy uses four voices to tell the story of the bombed out, yet proud British people, who were horrified at the onslaught of immigrants who sought England after WW2. One thing you have to say for the British as presented in this novel, their racism runs deep and not just along color lines. If they can't fight class, then they will pick their fights with nationality.

With a wry sense of irony, Levy depicts the displaced Jamaicans, Hortense and Gilbert Joseph, as well as the white British landlady, Queenie Bligh, who rents them and other "coloreds" a room, and the stories that surround -- including Queenie's husband Bernard, who disappears into the war.

Their voices give us clear background on their nature as well as their motivations for the decisions and choices they make. These backgrounds are thorough and well done. When you come away from Hortense's section or Bernard's section, you know them, and you know them well.

Levy's novel also travels many places -- the verdant fields of Jamaica, the grayed- out streets of London as well as the grisly details of the butcher's life, to the rioting streets of Calcutta where civil war breaks out -- and thousands slaughtered by the Indian police.

The story is part romance, part history, part anger, but all human -- Levy tempers it with humor.. just enough -- like vinegar to the fish and chips.

I love the title too!

I enjoyed. :) I have discovered a new writer.