Hortense Joseph arrives in London from Jamaica in 1948 with her
life in her suitcase, her heart broken, her resolve intact. Her husband, Gilbert
Joseph, returns from the war expecting to be received as a hero, but finds his
status as a black man in Britain to be second class. His white landlady, Queenie,
raised as a farmer's daughter, befriends Gilbert, and later Hortense, with
innocence and courage, until the unexpected arrival of her husband, Bernard, who
returns from combat with issues of his own to resolve.
Told in these four voices, Small Island is a courageous novel of tender
emotion and sparkling wit, of crossings taken and passages lost, of shattering
compassion and of reckless optimism in the face of insurmountable barriers---in
short, an encapsulation of that most American of experiences: the immigrant's
The Washington Post Book World Small Island is free of the prosaic affectations that are often the hallmark of celebrated authorship; there are no postmodern pyrotechnics or other gimmicky hoops to jump through. Rather, Levy tells a good story, and she tells it well....Small Island's temporal dynamics and the artfully choreographed connections among the various first-person voices propel the reader forward through differing perspectives and revelations. One possible flaw is that the novel turns on a huge coincidence, which some readers may find too forced, too sentimentally contrived. Granted, this is a well-worn device with its near-Dickensian reliance on the mechanics of plot, but how better, perhaps, to imagine and unpack the complex interlocutions of a wide world writ small?
An enthralling tour de force that animates a chapter in the history of empire. This is Levy's fourth novel, but first U.S. publication.
Starred Review. None of the characters is perfectly sympathetic, but all are achingly human.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by Grandpa Phil Missing Piece Levy makes so much of the photos, from the beginning to the end. One photo is of Michael in Jamaica. He gave it to Queenie. At the end, his son shows in the family photo album a picture of Queenie. The photo of his father would be as important... Read More
Rated of 5
by Elizabeth Historical and keeps your interest Small Island begins with a chapter about Post-War London and Hortense, a Jamaican bride, arriving in London to meet her husband whom she married but hasn't seen for six months. The reunion is quite a tale.
The book brings to light how immigrants... Read More
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