Sunday, March 28, 2010

Book Review : Small Island - Andrea Levy 8*

Small Island follows the fortunes of two married couples in the Second World War and its immediate aftermath. In both relationships, the wives seem to have regarded their choice of husband as an escape from something worse rather than the promise of wedded bliss. Gilbert Joseph and his brand new wife in this so far unconsummated marriage are Jamaican, Gilbert signed on as an RAF volunteer during the war and has come to Britain expecting he will be welcomed by the grateful populace, nothing is further from the truth.

Bernard is the very epitome of the dull banker, and when he sings up his new wife Queenie is almost happy to see him leave their home, apart from the fact it leaves her saddled with Bernard's mute father Arthur, shell shocked since WW1.

Small Island traces the experiences of these four people through the war and afterwards, it explores a point in British history, from Windrush and beyond, where a new social and racial group began to try and live alongside the white population. There are numerous flash points and ugly scenes described by Levy, the overt and widespread levels of racism seem shocking to us now, yet you can easily draw similarities between the Windrush West Indians of the late 40's and the current influx of East Europeans and the ways in which they are treated.

Small Island is four deeply entwined personal journals, Levy lays bare the emotions of her cast as they come to terms with massive upheaval, personal tragedies and the harsh realities of a changing Britain. It manages to be charming and humorous and deeply disturbing at the same time, a great personal chronicle of a changing point in British history.

64 of 1001.

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