Small Island

By Andrea Levy
(Picador USA, Paperback, 9780312429522, 441pp.)

Publication Date: March 30, 2010

List Price: $16.00*
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Selected by Indie Booksellers for the Summer '10 Reading Group List
“Andrea Levy's extraordinary novel won every prize in England except the Booker. While the tone is often hilariously funny, Levy manages to convey the pain experienced by Jamaican immigrants to Britain in the decades following World War II. Small Island is told through four voices, the Jamaicans Hortense and Gilbert Joseph who marry in order to escape their small island and live in a rooming house run by Queenie, a peaches and cream Englishwoman, who also married Bernard for her own reasons and just as disastrously. Levy spares nobody from her sharp wit -- Hortense is haughty; Gilbert, a tease; Queenie is a cheater, and Bernard is feckless -- but she also endows each of them with a certain dignity. A truly enjoyable book.”
-- carla cohen, Politics & Prose Books &, Washington, DC


"Small Island" is an international bestseller. It won the Orange Prize for Fiction, The Orange Prize for Fiction: Best of the Best, The Whitbread Novel Award, The Whitbread Book of the Year Award, and the Commonwealth Writers' Prize. It has now been adapted for the screen as a coproduction of the BBC and Masterpiece/WGBH Boston.

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.

About the Author
Andrea Levy was born in England to Jamaican parents. Her fourth novel, "Small Island", won the Whitbread Book of the Year Award, the Orange Prize for Fiction: Best of the Best, and the Commonwealth Writer's Prize. The television adaptation of her novel won an International Emmy for best TV movie/miniseries. She is also the author of "The Long Song", shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and "Fruit of the Lemon", among others. She lives in London.

Conversation Starters from


  1. In the “Prologue,” how does Levy show that perception of race is often a result of misperception? Which other scenes in the novel reveal similar racial misperceptions? What are they and how do they lead to conflict?

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