Seamless Travel

Small Island by Andrea Levy

A story of shattered dreams and rediscovered ideas cannot be written any more poetically than in Levy’s Small Island. Based in London, Levy was born to Jamaican parents, in England. Small Island won the 2004 Orange Prize for Fiction and the Whitbread Book of the Year.

After World War II, when countries around the globe were going through a post-war reconstruction phase, England, too, was changing. And a people that put its hope on England saw how it moved from dreams to nightmares, and nightmares to dreams, for some. Serious instances of inter-racial conflicts and cultural controversies are interspersed with funny anecdotes and happenings in the lives of the characters.

Levy has used a plot that is close to her heart and portrayed it with much poise – each character’s first-person account adds to the flood of well-brought-out emotions in the novel. The marked expanse between the two countries is too obvious to miss: the Britons’ prim English and the Jamaicans’ pidgin-smothered one; the levels of education followed by both; and even in the food and lifestyle.

Queenie Bligh, a Londoner who took in Jamaican lodgers against her neighbours’ wishers in order to get by trying times; Gilbert Joseph, an RAF pilot who returns to England as a civilian only to find that England does not welcome him minus his RAF tag; Hortense, a Jamaican English teacher who has been eagerly waiting to reach England’s shores, and finds that, on reaching London, it is not the same welcoming country she dreamt of, and nor is her husband, Gilbert – these three strong protagonists lend the story a narrative that is compelling, poignant and certainly heartrending at some points.

In Gilbert’s voice: “And Hortense. Her face was still haughty. But how long before her chin is cast down? For, fresh from a ship, England had not yet deceived her. But soon it will. All us pitiful West Indian dreamers who sailed with heads bursting with foolishness were a joke to my clever smirking cousin now.” The novel can be true for any third-world person who came to England in the 1940s and 50s, pinning their hopes on a better tomorrow only to find their ‘home’ was more inviting. May be there wasn’t enough to eat or go by, but there certainly was a smiling face greeting them around the corner, unlike in hostile England.

The novel doesn’t end on a ‘…and they lived happily ever after’ note, but summarises the entire feeling that runs through the book – Hortense delivers Queenie’s baby and is forced to take it home to Jamaica with her. A black baby fathered by Michael, a Jamaican who was fighting the war for England. He was Hortense’s childhood lover.

Verdict: I loved the way Levy swirled the words around to create a movie-like experience when I read. A true Wordsmith!

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Rating: 10.0/10 (1 vote cast)
Seamless Travel, 10.0 out of 10 based on 1 rating

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This entry was posted on Monday, November 2nd, 2009 at 3:47 pm and is filed under Fiction, History, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

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