Friday, January 16, 2009

Small Island by Andrea Levy (Jill)

Small Island
By Andrea Levy
Completed January 15, 2009

In her Orange Prize winning novel, Small Island, Andrea Levy gave a voice to a probably forgotten and unappreciated aspect of World War II England – the service of Jamaican soldiers and their emigration to the “Mother Country” after the war. During World War II, Jamaica was a British colony, and many Jamaican men volunteered for military service. Many men hoped that their service would offer them opportunities in England after the war. In Small Island, we get a glimpse on what happened to the Jamaican immigrants once they arrived in England.

This novel focused on four main characters: Hortense, a stubborn Jamaican woman whose dream was to always live in England; her husband, Gilbert, who served in the RAF and tried to carve a living in London; Queenie, Gilbert’s landlord; and her husband, Bernard, who was missing for three years before turning up at home. Through these narratives, the reader received a hard look at the racist treatment of Jamaican people – it was definitely reminiscent of how African Americans were treated in our country during this time. If Small Island succeeded at anything, it clearly showed how Jamaicans (and other minorities), despite their service during World War II, were not given a fair shake in British society.

While I enjoyed most of this novel, I felt dragged down by Bernard’s narrative. He was the most unenlightening of the four, and he was a hard character to like (racist, sexist and meek). Additionally, I did not like the “surprise” aspect to the ending. It was a little predictable and weighed the story down.

However, despite these reservations, Small Island taught me something historically that I did not know before, and for that, I am glad to have read this book. ( )

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