Andrea Levy, Small Island

Andrea Levy’s Small Island, a novel about Jamaican immigrants to Britain in the years right after World War II, and about their interactions with one another and with white British society. This is the kind of historical fiction I adore, the intimacy of being taken into someone else’s life and really feeling like you are there (even though some parts of “being there” involved the London Blitz and were really disgusting such as when one of the characters encounters someone else’s body parts after a bombing raid.)

There were parts of the novel that were almost physically painful to read: the casual (and not-so-casual) racism faced by Jamaican immigrants to the UK (the story’s “present” is 1948, so the characters are part of the first wave of migration from the West Indies to the UK) despite the fact that the UK was happy to use these “colonials” as part of their war effort against Hitler.

The only part of the novel that didn’t work for me was the somewhat melodramatic introduction of a very symbolic baby towards the end of the novel. That particular plot development seemed to have wandered in from some other novel, but Levy is a fantastic writer, and I’m looking forward to reading more of her work!

(Read from March 7-11, 2010)

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