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The Lonely Londoners

3.71  ·  Rating details ·  8,502 ratings  ·  587 reviews
From the brilliant, sharp, witty pen of Sam Selvon, his classic award-winning novel of immigrant life in London in the 1950s.

In the hopeful aftermath of war they flocked to the Mother Country — West Indians in search of a prosperous future in the "glitter-city."

Instead, they have to face the harsh realities of living hand to mouth, of racism, of bone-chilling weather and b
...more
Paperback, 142 pages
Published January 11th 1989 by Longman Publishing Group (first published 1956)
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Average rating 3.71  · 
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Lisa
Oh, the lovely, lonely Londoners! What a charming surprise!

Expecting a bleak story of the harsh reality of Caribbean immigrants living in London in the 1950s, I was delighted to discover so much more than that, a colourful study of the city as seen through the lens of a group of newly arrived people, with plenty of dreams and plans and experience to compare with London life. It is the story of a group of West Indians trying to find a decent life for themselves in a hostile (social) climate, wh
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Emily May
Aug 16, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics, 2012
2.5
The Lonely Londoners is a small novel that is really made up of several short stories about different West Indians who come to London in search of employment and with dreams of a better life. I think Selvon captures a sense of loneliness in these characters as he shows what it's like to be miles away from anyone who cares about you in a city full of white people who automatically believe you're a criminal. I love London, but I can easily see how it's the kind of city that can be exhilarating
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Sean Barrs
It’s all in the title. I think Selvon is a very clever writer. He has created a vivid picture of London through the eyes of Caribbean immigrants in the 60s. These men were by themselves, for the most part, when entering the big city. They were met with prejudice and alienation. It’s all rather moronic because not only did some of these men fight in the war for the allies, but they also filled a massive gap in the job market that the casualties left. Yet they are alienated.

What a thankless peopl
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Paul Bryant
Sep 21, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: novels
I loved the voice of our chatty narrator here. Like all his characters he talks in 1950s West Indian English. It’s a cool salty breeze of a voice, bending and buckling the rules of grammar until they become a distant memory. This is a window into a long gone world, it’s about all the Jamaicans and Trinidadians who came over to London after the war, and their roguish ways, and their comical capers, and he throws in the odd melancholic observation about the English :

It have a kind of communal feel
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Paul
Apr 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: carribean
I’m reading a biography of V S Naipaul at the moment and reading about his Caribbean Voices period reminded me of this book, which I’ve been meaning to read for some time. Like Naipaul, Selvon was from Trinidad and was trying to make a living as a writer in Britain in the 1950s.
This is a record of the Windrush generation who came to Britain to work after the Second World War; their trials and tribulations, searching for work, trying to make ends meet (the section about the pigeons and seagulls i
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Anni
Apr 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I'm posting this today (although I read it years ago) as news surfaces about the threatened deportation of the 'Windrush' Caribbean migrants. I had forgotten how much I relished Selvon's writing with his colourful cast of characters, and this one was my favourite. ...more
K.D. Absolutely
Mar 01, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to K.D. by: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2006-2010)
Q&A: What sparked the London riots?
On Saturday, August 13, in Tottenham, north London, an ethnically diverse area where locals had been protesting about the death of 29-year-old Mark Duggan, a black man who was shot in a police operation on Thursday, August 11. This initial outbreak spread into several areas of London and other major British cities, such as Birmingham and Gloucester in central England, Manchester, Salford, Liverpool and Notthingham further north and Bristol in the southwest. On
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Nigeyb
Jun 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
I loved it. The Lonely Londoners (1956) is wonderful. Sam Selvon beautifully evokes immigrant life in 1950s London for various characters who have come to London from the West Indies for work and opportunity.

The tale is narrated by kindhearted but homesick Moses Aloetta who introduces us to some marvellous characters: newly arrived Galahad, ladies man Cap, Tolroy whose family have arrived en masse, Five Past, and many many more. The whole book is written in patois and it is this technique that
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Zanna
Feb 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Aahhh what a sweet read this is. It brings back to you the joy of having ends meet, stress off, self respect on and sun in the sky:
So, cool as a lord, the old Galahad walking out to the road, with plastic raincoat hanging on the arm, and the eyes not missing one sharp craft* that pass, bowing his head in a polite ‘Good evening’ and not giving a blast if they answer or not. This is London, this is life oh lord, to walk like a king with money in your pocket, not a worry in the world.

Is one of thos
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David
This is a unique book, written in the same West Indian patois spoken by its characters, Afro-Caribbean immigrants to London in the 1950s. There isn't really a story, but a bunch of stories. Starting with Moses Aloetta, the veteran immigrant from Trinidad who is now responsible for initiating greenhorns to life in this cold, white city, we circle through the lives of a dozen or so other working class blacks from the West Indies. They used to think London was the center of the universe; now they h ...more
Emmkay
Mar 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, race, 2020-reads
Wonderful. Published in 1956, a short, incredibly evocative, and important novel about West Indian immigrants to London, the so-called ‘Windrush generation.’ It’s written in the vernacular, with a marvellous cadence flexible enough to contribute to the tale’s humour or its pathos alike (rather like the much later Milkman actually, which I could also hear in my head and similarly kept trapping my spouse to read bits out loud to). There’s one amazing ten-page sentence about summer in the park that ...more
Christine
Jun 09, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Despite all of it it’s a love letter to London. That no matter how worse your life is, you’re doing everything to stay in this city. Everyone of the “boys” is struggling with their lives and faces different problems but they can’t make themselves go back to Trinidad.
Also it’s a good book to read at this time. A character realises at some point that the immigrants can be integrated perfectly but nevertheless are not seen as English. He nots that it’s because of their skin colour they are not trea
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Olivia-Savannah
Jan 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed reading this novel. I'm not sure why I was surprised, seeing as I do have personal connection to the narrative. Both sets of my grandparents ended up moving from Jamaica to the UK in around the time period that this novel is set, and faced many of the problems and situations that the novel presents. Of course, it means I am not relating to this from a first hand perspective. But the events and everything discussed in the novel relate to how I am here now, an ...more
Katie Lumsden
Dec 28, 2021 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this one - an interesting portrait of a particular point in time, with strong characters and a great style.
Jin
Feb 13, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
And Galahad watch the colour of his hand, and talk to it, saying, 'Colour, is you that causing all this, you know. Why the hell you can't be blue, or red or green, if you can't be white? (...)'


A short but interesting story about West Indian immigrants to London written in 1956.
The image of the cover looks orange-ish but the color of the cover is rather red which stands in a better contrast to the black lines.
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Jonathan
Jun 10, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"The sun shining, but Galahad never see the sun look like how it looking now. No heat from it, it just there in the sky like a force-ripe orange. When he look up the colour of the sky so chocolate it make him more frighten. It have a kind of melancholy aspect about the morning that making him shiver. He have a feeling is about seven o'clock in the evening: when he look at clock on top of a building he see it only half-past ten in the morning.."

"...listen to this ballad what happen to Moses one
...more
Zuberino
This is a book of near-mythical status to me, one that I have known about since I was 10 years old, having read extracts from it in my Rhodri Jones textbook as a schoolboy. Those mellifluous alliterations - Samuel Selvon, Lonely Londoners - have stayed with me across the decades. Had I never come across this book, it would still have set off bells ringing in my head, no matter where I found myself or how much time had passed.

But as luck would have it, come across it I did - in Selvon's London o
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Jason
Oct 04, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2019
Me reading this book was a bit of luck, somebody was getting rid of a pile of books and this Penguin classic was hidden amongst them, who'd want to offload a Penguin classic? I'd never heard of it, nor the writer but the feeling I got from the cover makes me think it is going to be a cool read. Sam Selvon has a fantastic writing style, the language has not been tweaked for the public, you get the full West Indies accent....it is so easy to read, the issue is to not speak like it in real life. Ve ...more
Antonomasia
[4.5] An excellent mix of kitchen-sink realism and picaresque, with entertaining characters. The dialect narrative gives a wonderful sense of being right inside a subculture yet is lightly enough done that it's still a pretty fast read. (It's so relaxed that it doesn't seem like a trad third-person narrative, more often like listening to an old man telling stories of what his mates got up to back in the day.) There is l great detail about the London of the 1950s and the eternal magic of the city ...more
Viv JM
I knew very little about this book prior to reading it other than (1) it is on the 1001 books to read before you die list; and (2) it was a Kindle deal for 99p! I wondered if it might be depressing but it was quite the opposite. It is written in a Trinidadian patois, with a rambling free-association kind of reminiscing vibe and is full of vividly drawn colourful characters and a strong sense of place and time. Some of the blatant misogyny got me down at times but otherwise a joyful read.
K.J. Charles
Apr 09, 2019 added it
Shelves: london, 1950s
A classic of British West Indian writing about life in London for the Windrush generation and their struggles coping with racism, poverty, the awfulness of post-war living, acceptance, reality vs hope, homesickness, and of course the weather.

This is brilliant. I have been putting it off because the title makes it sound so depressing but it isn't at all. It's written lyrically in a combination of West Indian dialects which works really well, telling stories of a group of "the boys" who all cope
...more
Kim
Aug 16, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Setting: London; 1950s. This is a tale of the lives, trials and tribulations of West Indian men arriving in London during the 1950s, looking for a better life. Told largely from the point of view of Moses, who came from Trinidad 10 years earlier, the reader is also introduced to an array of characters, many with great nicknames such as Galahad, Captain and Big City, all of whom are struggling to survive, find jobs, make money to send home and remain positive in the face of racism and homesicknes ...more
Claire Fuller
I really enjoyed this short novel first published in 1956 about West Indian immigrants coming to London. Narrated by Moses, who has already been in London several years, we see him and his friends as they try to get work, find places to stay, pick up women and borrow and lend money. It’s written in dialect, which is what brings these men and their characters to life. Having read lots of novels by women set in 50s London (also often with characters scraping by) it was so interesting to see the pl ...more
Samir Rawas Sarayji
Sep 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
The Trinidadian author writes a fictional account about his countrymen who migrate to post World War II London in search of work and the ‘dream’ life. These characters arrive only to find a London that does not particularly welcome them as there’s too many of them already, with little work left for the British as it is. They stick together in their own communities, living in ghetto-like neighborhoods and depending on each other to get by. Their dreams are quickly shattered in the face of brute r ...more
Inderjit Sanghera
Dec 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
The real strength of Selvon’s stories are perhaps not as a work of art, but as an exploration of 1980’s London through the eyes of various West Indian men; this aligns with Selvon’s hyper-realistic prose style, one which dispenses of prettiness in favour or authenticity. Whether it be the smog filled streets of London, the disorientating nature of big city life, the everyday prejudices which many of these men had to live through, or the feeling these men had of being cast adrift, of existing on ...more
Rebecca
Selvon, a Trinidadian journalist who settled in London in 1950, became known as the “father of black writing” in Britain. Moses Aloetta, an expert in London life after a few years here, lends a hand to his West Indian brethren who are fresh off the boat. As the book opens, he’s off to meet Henry Oliver, whom he soon dubs “Sir Galahad” for his naïve idealism. Moses warns Galahad that, although racism isn’t as blatant as in America, the British certainly aren’t thrilled about black people coming o ...more
Sandro
This was the first book for me that dealt with the struggles and topics of the Windrush generation in the UK. It was fascinating to see how the book adapts a high-modernist writing style while keeping with the vernacular of the narrator. The episodic events of the book convey a sense of a disjointed London after political turmoil. Too much to read at the moment unfortunately so I would have loved to give this a bit more time to sink in but nevertheless a book I can imagine picking up again at a ...more
Nat K
Jul 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017-books
This was an absolute gem of a book! It was musical and lyrical, and I really got a sense of the character's lives in 1950s London. Their hopes, dreams and struggles. Quite charming. ...more
George
Feb 22, 2021 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars. An interesting, thought provoking, entertaining, engaging short novel about new male West Indian immigrants in London in the 1950s. The novel is about their experiences, focusing on their social life. Most of the characters are of working class backgrounds who struggle to find well paying jobs. Moses has been in London the longest, in all, about ten years. Moses has been the first point of contact for most of these West Indian immigrants. Moses meets them at the train station on their ...more
Lewis Isbell
Oct 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
What happening man what happening
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Samuel Dickson Selvon was born in San Fernando in the south of Trinidad. His parents were East Indian: his father was a first-generation Christian immigrant from Madras and his mother's father was Scottish.He was educated at Naparima College, San Fernando, before leaving at the age of fifteen to work. He was a wireless operator with the Royal Naval Reserve from 1940 to 1945. Thereafter, he moved n ...more

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Welcome back, once again, to the perennial tradition of summer reading. Thanks to display-technology advances in e-book readers, you can...
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“It was a summer night: laughter fell softly: it was the sort of night that if you wasn't making love to a woman you feel like you was the only person in the world like that” 11 likes
“It have people living in London who don’t know what happening in the room next to them, far more the street, or how other people living. London is a place like that. It divide up in little worlds, and you stay in the world you belong to and you don’t know anything about what happening in the other ones except what you read in the papers.” 8 likes
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