The Small Island Review

I am a member of 2 reading groups down here in the real world.  They are both run by our County Library Service, so both groups choose their books from the same list of a 100 +titles on offer.   I have belonged to the group in my nearest town for 9 years and the one in the village for 6 and so many of the books I read are ones I have read before.  I don’t as it happens mind too much as if I have enjoyed a book I am very happy to read it again and if it was one I didn’t enjoy I just wing it on memory at the discussions!

Our December title A Small Island by Andrea Levy is one I have read before and I wrote a small review at the time for the in house library newsletter – I have found it as good a read this 2nd time and have resurrected and added to my original article.

 A Small Island by Andrea Levy

 Take six characters, three white and three black, and set them into the cauldron that was the Second World War and its immediate aftermath, stir a little and you have this great read.  With characters that feel real and a story line which encompasses just a tiny part of our multicultural history this is an un-put-down-able book. Dealing, as it does, with the beginning of mass immigration from the British colonies, the collapse of the British Empire, the role played by the Commonwealth countries in Britain’s defence (a very little known story to our shame I fear) and Britain’s’ role in the world changed beyond recognition it is of extreme interest to today’s British readers at least but I also think to others outside this particular small island.

Exploring the universal stories of humanity we have in this tale the ordinary braveries and cowardice’s of people, the loves and hatreds that are not to do with the great global conflicts but is everything to do about men and women just being.  It is a story about racial tensions to be sure but it has a good deal more to offer.

The Small Island?  Is it Jamaica or Britain?  Both, but also many more small islands.  The small enclosed islands that people live in, the rigid rules of different aspects of society.  So the isolated farm, the confines of family care responsibilities, the isolation of army units in a foreign clime, the rocky bleakness of intolerance all try to entrap people within their small boundaries, to keep change at bay.  These are to be escaped and our protagonists all make the attempt and, on their way, grow and change.

The characters in A Small Island show courage and determination in the different ways they cope with life.  No-one has an easy passage through this time of great change.  They have hopes and ambitions, some come about, many have to evolve and adapt to circumstances.  The world is in a period of great upheaval but despite the huge forces unleashed across the world our ‘ordinary’ folks do carve out a version of their dreams. At the end we wish them well as they make their way forward.

Andrea Levy writes with some anger, not a little humour and certainly with compassion.  She is definitely on my list of impatient ‘when is she going to write another one for goodness sake’ books.


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