Small Island

Small Island

Book - 2005
Average Rating:
Rate this:
Winner of the 2004 Orange Prize for Fiction
A Picador Original Trade Paperback

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 life.
Publisher: New York : Picador, 2005.
Edition: 1st Picador ed.
ISBN: 9780312424671
Characteristics: 441 p. ; 21 cm.


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment
Aug 19, 2019

This novel also won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize.

WVMLStaffPicks Jan 19, 2015

It is 1948 in an England still shaken by the war. Queenie Bligh takes in lodgers recently arrived from Jamaica. What else could she do when her husband had never returned from his RAF wartime posting to India? Gilbert Joseph was one of several thousand Jamaican men who joined the RAF to fight against Hitler. Returning to England after the war, and no longer in a blue uniform, he is confronted by prejudice and distrust. Levy's own parents emigrated to Britain just after the war and the book is based on their experience. The novel deservedly won the 2004 Orange Prize for Fiction.

May 05, 2014

A beautifully written book that captures an historical moment like few others do. Enlightening, funny, sometimes sad, and consistently a compelling read.

Feb 15, 2013

An excellent, well-written, engrossing page-turner. I loved it. And now I'm gonna have to find the movie :)

RenGrrl Aug 14, 2012

Lovely and heart-wrenching award-winning novel! Check out the video too!

Jul 29, 2012

Beautifully written.

crankylibrarian Nov 01, 2011

War often engineers major societal change: families are uprooted, young people unexpectedly become leaders and are opened to new experiences, social groups mix. It's no coincidence that the U.S. social justice movements experienced renewed energy after World Wars I and II. In Britain, it was the anti-colonial movements which caught fire in the wake of war. The conflict is elegantly articulated by two characters in Andrea Levy's _Small Island_: a Jamaican, bitter that his RAF service earns him no respect or appreciation in post-war England, and a white Englishman who fought "so that each man could live amongst his own kind".

Told in the alternating voices of its central characters, Small Island examines the inner lives and struggles of Jamaican immigrants Hortense and Gilbert, both before and after the war. Gifted, well educated, and self-reliant, they are determined to find success in their revered "Mother country", but keenly disappointed by the ignorance and racism they encounter. Their English landlady Queenie has been similarly discouraged by life, particularly in her marriage to stolid, unimaginative Bernard, whose unshakable faith in British superiority and tradition will leave him pitifully unprepared to cope with post-war reality. There are no villains or heroes here, just 4 bewildered, ordinary people doing the best they can.

Feb 08, 2011

Wonderful insight into what it is like to be an immigrant. I had some ahah moments reading this.

Harriet_the_Spy Aug 16, 2010

Levy is uncanny at getting us to understand and sympathize with characters we think we don't like. Remarkable, gripping story.

Dec 06, 2007

Great story with memorable characters, set in post- WWII London. Levy has a terrific ear for dialog and accents. Won the Orange Prize in 2004.


Add Age Suitability

There are no ages for this title yet.


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at CPL

To Top