A few years ago, during a trip to London, I was in a bookstore (of course) and looking at one of those tables on which new and recommended books are displayed. A book with two women on the front – one white and one black – caught my eye, and I picked it up to read the back cover. Right away, a woman also perusing the table said, “you have to read that.” She proceeded to rave about it which of course led me right to the cash register, or “the till” as she may have called it.
The book was Small Island by Andrea Levy. It sat on my shelf unread for a couple of years because other books were in the queue. But a few weeks ago, as my school reading responsibilities lightened up, I picked it up and began to read. I finished it last night, and I am still kind of overwhelmed by what I’ve experienced over the past two weeks. I keep expecting to look out the window and see 1948 London rather than a suburb of Boston in 2010. It was so vivid that I can’t believe those characters put up with sitting ignored on a shelf for two whole years! In the meantime, the book was made into a Masterpiece Theater program, but I’m not ready to see it. Watching it on a screen can not make it any more real to me than it is right now.
The novel centers on four people living in London right after WWII. Two of them are black Jamaicans and two are white English people. Before reading this book, I had no idea of the hardships facing Jamaicans living in London after the war. At points, it was absolutely cringe-inducing to read. The story is told from the points of view of all four characters and moves between time periods. It’s a long book, but I never wanted it to end.
It’s now in paperback (with the Masterpiece Theater cover), and if you’re looking for a summer book that will completely transport you to another place and time, I can’t recommend Small Island highly enough. My next stop — Andrea Levy just released a new book. This one will not sit on the shelf for two years.