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Small Island

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  24,791 ratings  ·  1,542 reviews
Hortense Joseph arrives in London from Jamaica in 1948 with her life in her suitcase, her heart broken, her resolve intact. Her husband, Gilbert Joseph, returns from the war expecting to be received as a hero, but finds his status as a black man in Britain to be second class. His white landlady, Queenie, raised as a farmer's daughter, befriends Gilbert, and later Hortense, ...more
Paperback, 441 pages
Published April 1st 2005 by Picador USA (first published 2004)
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Elizabeth Hutchinson I think this book would definitely be appropriate. It deals with issues of post-war England that are rarely discussed and often glazed over in history…moreI think this book would definitely be appropriate. It deals with issues of post-war England that are rarely discussed and often glazed over in history courses. Not only does it discuss the implications of a war, but also a changing society in which race is being confronted on the home front.(less)
Noreen O'Connor It does have some content that addresses US racism, but is mostly set in the UK and Jamaica.

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Average rating 3.94  · 
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Sean Barrs the Bookdragon
Books like this are why I study English literature at university, books like this are why I read so ferociously. Ferocious reading? Now that’s an interesting image. But, honestly, I’m careful when I read. I wouldn’t want to scratch those pages! But, I’m digressing here.

This book is an eye-opener; it is an excellent teacher of part of English cultural history. Could you imagine fighting for a country not your own, and then being treated by the citizens of that country like dirt? Those you ended
...more
Bionic Jean
Almost seventy years ago, on 22nd June 1948, the passenger ship HMT “Empire Windrush” sailed into London’s Tilbury docks. Several of these large troop ships had been acquired at the end of the Second World War by the British government, and all were renamed “Empire”, followed by the name of a river; in this case a little river in Oxfordshire. But the word “Windrush” came to symbolise something far greater. It was to give its name to an entire generation of people, all of whom had emigrated from ...more
Christine
Aug 06, 2007 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book, but I realize that I am very biased because I am Jamaican, and have many relatives who emigrated to the UK from Jamaica, so the characters were immediately real and recognizable to me.

Some reviewers have complained that her use of dialect was heavy-handed, but from my perspective, she actually tones down Jamaican Patois (also called Jamaican Creole) significantly to make it understandable to non-Jamaicans. On a visit to Jamaica last year, I heard her interviewed and she said
...more
Nandakishore Varma
"No man is an island." Said John Donne. But the reality is, everyone is. At least in their minds. That is what this novel tells us.

This is the story of four people. Hortense Roberts, a teacher; Gilbert Joseph, an airman (both Jamaicans); and the British couple Victoria ("Queenie") Bligh and the bank clerk Bernard Bligh. But it also the story of two nations, England and the West Indies, as reflected in the very private lives and thoughts of these people.

Both Hortense and Gilbert want to escape
...more
Angela
May 21, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fantastic novel, a real eye opener! Small Island is a novel that connects continents in wartime. It takes the reader from Jamaica to England and on to India in the days of the second World War. Four main characters connect the dots. A Gilbert, a young Jamaican who joins the RAF to fight Hitler but finds himself fighting racism instead; Queenie, a young white woman who takes in Jamaican Lodgers; her husband Bernard, who is fighting the Japs in India; and the Jamaican girl Hortense, who travels to ...more
Petra-X
I wanted to enjoy this book because I am a West Indian now and did the reverse journey - first world UK to backward little Caribbean island, but the journey was a lot more enjoyable than the book.

I finished it by an act of will and apart from odd scenes of violence or lasciviousness, it didn't hold my attention. It was such an easy read that the pages flowed into each other leaving no trace on my brain at all. Like the sea washing the sand clean with each wave, so did each page disappear from my
...more
Paul
Mixed feelings about this one; read very easily and the historical context is one that interests me. However it did not really do what I thought it set out do, which was to chronicle the early years of the Windrush generation. There are four narrators; Hortense and Gilbert from Jamaica and Queenie and Bernard who are English (although Bernard feels like a bit of an add on, arriving in the last quarter of the book). That makes the book feel a little disjointed. A great deal of time is also spent ...more
Christine
I'm trying to figure out my reaction to this book, other than the fact that I loved it. I have a hard time putting into words my feelings about this book.

Small Island is the story of four people in the aftermath of WW II. Levy is concerned with the experience of immigrants and racial issues in post War London.


I dont think the story could have been told in a shorter span, and it is one of those that you understand why it won the awards that it did. I didn't find the dialect annoying or hard to
...more
Antonomasia
[4.5] Middlebrow fiction as it should be done: entertaining, readable but not without substance; a book you still look forward to picking up when you're using most of your spare time for things other than reading. Levy makes this kind of writing look easy, but there must be a lot of paddling going on under the surface to make the novel glide so smoothly. No surprise that this was made into a BBC drama - it certainly has that Sunday evening TV feel: characters are entirely believeable as ...more
Margitte
A well researched, well written book with surprising twists and turns. The author manages to show compassion for all the characters and write the story in such a way that this international bestseller speaks to
a very wide audience. The humor is the the glue which keeps the story riveting and a delight to read despite the hardships and dire circumstances the characters had to endure.

Hortense Joseph, an immigrant from Jamaica, settles in London in 1948, after leaving her beloved island for a
...more
Cecily
Story around the ship The Windrush, told through the eyes of two Jamaicans and a British couple and in two distinct times (1948 and "before").

Hortense, the main narrator to begin with, is interesting but unsympathetic (very snobbish and judges people by how dark their skin is).

Interesting glimpse into the different ways black people were viewed and treated by US forces, British forces and various British civilians, which is different again from Bernard's views of India and its inhabitants.

...more
Quirkyreader
Sep 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This was a very heartfelt and moving story.

I throughly enjoyed Levy’s writing style. It was so picturesque that I felt like I was also in Jamaica, England, and India along with the stories’s characters.

This story was a warm breath of fresh air on a cool early fall day.
Chrissie
Oct 13, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Chrissie by: Laura
Having now completed the book, below is recorded both how I reacted as I read and at the book’s conclusion.

So far I have read about half and am letting off steam.

I am having trouble with the following:

1.Hortense. I cannot stand this woman; she is so uppity and thinks she is better than everyone else. I don't yet feel empathy for any of the other characters either.
2.I do not appreciate the time shifts. I understand that in this way we are to get a deeper idea of the characters' pasts, and thus
...more
Laura
Aug 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Every single person on this earth
Recommended to Laura by: Colleen
Wow. I wish that could be my entire review. It feels like "wow" should be sufficient. But in the interest of getting this book into the hands of as many people as possible, I'll attempt to do this book some justice. With NO Spoilers. No worries.

This is not a book I would normally choose to read. (I read it with a book group.) The description made it seem depressing, and just too "heavy" for me. However, Andrea Levy is such a gifted writer that she is able to breathe humor into even desolate
...more
Paul Sánchez Keighley
On the surface, Small Island looks like a book about immigration (specifically, post-WWII Jamaican immigration to the UK), but to me it felt more like a book about the fall of the British Empire.

The book begins with a prologue set in the early 20th century, when a young Queenie visits the British Empire Exhibition, showcasing the empire at the height of its glory. But then the main story - cleverly structured like the spokes of a wheel, with several tales converging to a common point (in a way
...more
Paul Bryant
Feb 11, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: novels
Well, it was pretty good. It has a lot of heart. Levy is a writer who sometimes teases the reader by dangling a big splodgy sentimental cliche in front of them only to swerve round it at the last moment. She's no fool. I've been looking for novels about immigrants, I read The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears (which was kind of a drag) and I have Petropolis sitting on my shelf (hope that will be better). (Further suggestions welcomed). Small Island is about (two) Jamaicans coming to 1948 ...more
Abbie | ab_reads
Before I actively wanted to read Small Island, I saw it constantly in charity shops (and then typically when I DID want a copy there were none to be found!) and you know when you see books an awful lot in secondhand shops that you begin to think they must have been given away for a reason, usually not a good one? Well, the only explanation I can come up with for Small Island is that people must have wanted to give it to charity shops so that MORE people could read and enjoy it, and I’m honestly ...more
Richard Derus
Dec 19, 2011 rated it it was ok
Rating: 2.5* of five

This woman and I are not a good fit. I read and loathed The Long Song, finding it tedious and contrived. I got this excrescence out of the library because I thought it unfair to judge an author by one book. Hell, I even gave EGGERS more than one book.

Small Island is a mean-spirited, judgmental, and sarcastic book. In the guise of "telling it like it is", Levy manages to make the reader detest every single person she describes as a narrow, unkind, worthless human being. I know
...more
Gumble's Yard
May 07, 2017 rated it liked it
The current Windrush scandal / national embarrassment caused me to revisit my review of this book - as the Windrush is crucial to the plot and the author's own parents sailed to England on the Windrush in 1948.

Multi-narrator story – which also moves between the past of the various characters and a present narrative in 1948 that brings them all together about:

Gilbert Joseph – a Jamaican who joins the RAF, but finds himself restricted to being a driver. In Jamaica he raises funds from Hortense to
...more
Mae
Aug 13, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thought "Small Island" would be good since it won not only the Orange Prize (Britain's literary contest for women writers) but something called "The Orange Prize for Fiction: Best of the Best." Not to mention the Commonwealth Writers' prize and a bunch of other awards. And I was right - I devoured this book. Levy's amazing storytelling sucks you in from the beginning and makes you care about the characters, Jamaican immigrants to "the Mother Country" of England right after World War II, and a ...more
Talia
Nov 14, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Andrea Levy's Small Island is a book about misconceptions of identity and race during World War II era Britain. The story revolves around Jamaicans who move to England as they believe they are "British" as they feel entitled to all the Mother Country has to offer. What they realize is that not everything is as it may seem. The best feature of this book is the way Levy tries to explain "colonial politics." During the height of colonialism, European rulers instructed their subjects in Africa, Asia ...more
Sincerae
Oct 07, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: english-novels
This historical novel took me a mighty long time to read, and the delay was not because Small Island was deadly boring or badly written. I liked this book, but at the same time I have mixed feelings about the characters. Maybe they were a little too "ordinary" for my tastes, OR perhaps since I focus much of my reading on works and characters set in Africa and the Middle East, maybe they were a little too Western for me.

Still despite my mixed feelings I loved this novel's optimism and humor.
...more
Kinga
Jul 26, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Even if the storyline was a little naive sometimes I have to give this book five starts because it was beautiful and I couldn't put it down.
Babydoll
Dec 27, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition


England. 1948. The atmosphere is one of dilapidation as the country recovers from the effects of World War II. Many buildings and establishments have been destroyed and provisions have suffered as goods are barely rationed to the community. Multitudes of soldiers are also returning home to a devastated country, as well as a poor economy. However, to the residents of the Caribbean Islands, England is look upon as a land of promise and prosperity. Small Island is author Andrea Levy’s critically
...more
Chana
What happens when young Jamaican men join the war effort for Britain against Germany? The Jamaicans are educated and consider themselves part of the British empire and children of the mother country of England. Unfortunately the people of England doesn't seem to recognize the Jamaicans; they don't know where Jamaica is and to them Jamaicans are just black people, inferior to white. Prejudice, alive and well in 1948 Britain.
In this story we follow Gilbert and Hortense, a Jamaican couple; and
...more
F.R.
Jun 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
I heard Andrea Levy on ‘Desert Island Discs’ the other week (cue Paul Bryant spitting tea over his keyboard at the mention of that hated middle class institution. Although quite how a character in Alan Hollinghurst’s new novel gets off on being such a class warrior, God only knows). She was charming and amusing and it occurred to me with shame that I’d never actually read any of her work – particularly as ‘Small Island’ has been on my to-do list since publication. And now having perused the ...more
John Needham
Feb 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I first encountered Small Island three years ago as a television drama done by the BBC. Its title music was ‘Over the Rainbow’ rendered in jaunty calypso style. Very apt, as it encapsulated protagonist Hortense’s rosy dream of life in the Mother Country. It was no Downton-style romanticisation of the past though. This was harsh cruel post-WW2 reality. It moved me deeply, and partly inspired my own literary effort on a similar subject. So reading Andrea Levy’s fine book now, I had some ...more
Vicky
Around the world = Jamaica.

Levy weaves together the stories of four characters, each a part of a forgotten story of post-war Britain and the Commonwealth. Hortense, a product of a colonial upbringing where her light skin and education set her above other Jamaicans; Gilbert, a former RAF serviceman returned to England on the Empire Windrush; Queenie, surviving by any means possible on the home front, and then as a woman on her own in post-war London; and Bernard, ignorant and narrow-minded,
...more
Michele
Jun 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing
The story mainly takes place in 1948 UK. It is told from different character's perceptions. Hortense is a Jamaican teacher who aspires to become a "high class teacher in the UK." Gilbert is the Jamaican man she weds to get herself there. Queenie is a beautiful white British woman who takes in boarders when she believes that her husband has died in the war. Bernard is Queenie's bigoted husband, who joins the RAF to avoid the draft and is stationed in India where he ends up fighting...more The ...more
Columbus
Jun 16, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Amazing book that goes back and forth between Jamaica and London England in the 40's. Beautiful writing.
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Savidge Reads: Small Island by Andrea Levy (2004) 7 19 Jun 14, 2019 10:14AM  
Is the ending too contrived? 2 57 Aug 26, 2014 03:06AM  
Black Coffee: Book Blast: Small Island 4 22 Aug 22, 2014 03:30PM  
Bailey's/Orange W...: March 14 Archive read Small Island 16 17 Mar 25, 2014 02:10AM  
Small Island - Archive read March 14 1 14 Feb 26, 2014 10:21AM  
Multiculturalism ...: A book recommendation 1 19 May 31, 2013 09:38AM  

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Andrea Levy was an English novelist, born in London to Jamaican parents. Her novels chronicled the experiences of the post-World War II generation of Jamaican immigrants in Britain. She was one of the first black British authors to achieve both critical and commercial success. Her novel Small Island won several major literary prizes: the Orange Prize for women's fiction, the Commonwealth Writers' ...more
“There are some words that once spoken will split the world in two. There would be the life before you breathed them and then the altered life after they'd been said. They take a long time to find, words like that. They make you hesitate. Choose with care. Hold on to them unspoken for as long as you can just so your world will stay intact.” 64 likes
“He looked so pained that I dreamed of taking his hands and making him dance” 13 likes
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