Small Island by Andrea Levy Book review


It is 1948, and England is recovering from a war. But at 21 Nevern Street, London, the conflict has only just begun. Queenie Bligh’s neighbours do not approve when she agrees to take in Jamaican lodgers, but Queenie doesn’t know when her husband will return, or if he will come back at all. What else can she do?

Gilbert Joseph was one of the several thousand Jamaican men who joined the RAF to fight against Hitler. Returning to England as a civilian he finds himself treated very differently. It’s desperation that makes him remember a wartime friendship with Queenie and knock at her door.

Gilbert’s wife Hortense, too, had longed to leave Jamaica and start a better life in England. But when she joins him she is shocked to find London shabby, decrepit, and far from the golden city of her dreams. Even Gilbert is not the man she thought he was…

Publisher: Headline Publishing Group

Genre: Historical Fiction

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars


Generally speaking, the story is narrated through the POVs of four central characters; Hortense, Gilbert, Queenie and Bernard. Each character’s past life serves as a backstory and adds a colorful perspective to the current happenings in 1948.

So in essence, the events in the book revolve around the experiences of the British and the windrush immigrants during and after the W.W.II and the India – Burma War. However, the present events take place in 1948. I enjoyed switching back and forth between these timelines because it made the plot less predictable and energetic.


As for the characters, Gilbert was my favorite, Hands down! His attitude was comical and his patois was very easy to read. He is also the most consistent character I encountered while reading. It is through him that we are able to understand the post colonial trauma that befell the windrush immigrants after the war.

“But as for me, I had just one question – let me ask the mother country this one simple question: how come England did not know me?”


Given that the themes in this book are centered around war, post-war trauma, post colonial trauma, racism and classism. One would expect nothing less than a heavy, nerve-racking read . Surprisingly, it turned out to be witty, funny and entertaining. It can be likened to a sweet and sour experience.


This is book is a must-read.

Small Island by Andrea Levy

Have you read this yet? What did you think of it?

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