Monday, January 24, 2011

Book Review: Small Island

Synopsis from BookBrowse: 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.

My Thoughts: I picked this one up randomly walking through the library shelves and the title caught my eye. I've always been interested in the black vs white, civil rights movement and, having never looked at it from a Jamaican point of view, thought this one seemed interesting. I have to be honest and say that the story did take a bit to get going while the author told the stories of each of the characters and how they interacted with each other. I enjoyed the character of Queenie, the white landlady who is at the center of the story. I enjoyed her determination and desire to do what's right, provide a place for people who had nowhere to go, regardless of their race and the feelings of her neighbors who felt she was ruining the neighborhood. She was also trying to make a living for herself while carrying for her disabled father-in-law and herself while her husband was missing during the war. Hortense is a lady of an entirely different sort, however. She comes to England expecting to live a grand life, compared to the one she had lived in Jamaica and has a serious reality-check, She is also another strong woman determined to make the best of what life has dealt her. I think that may be the overall theme of this book, however simple, that life can be difficult and you may struggle but how you handle it is what makes you the person you are.

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