SMALL ISLAND by Andrea Levy (Review), 438 pages, $24.95 cloth. Rating: NNNNN
ANDREA LEVY interviewed with DAVID BEZMOZGIS by Seamus o'regan Wednesday (October 27), 7 pm, Lakeside Terrace.
ANDREA LEVY reading with Justin cartwright , Wayson Choy and Richard B. Wright October 28, 8 pm, Brigantine Room.
Andrea Levy's Small Island took this year's Orange Prize, awarded to the best book written by a woman in the English language, and the £30,000 that goes with it. Good thing, too, because if there are writers you want to be sure get the chance to create more work, Levy is one of them.
Her exquisite novel tracks four characters during the second world war and after, two black Jamaicans who emigrate to London in 1948 and the two white Brits whose lives they change.
For people who have had the experience of being displaced, this book will feel like home. To those of us who have never hed the feeling of being the other, it's a revelation.
"My parents had come over from Jamaica in 1948," says Levy from her home in London. "They were middle- class Jamaicans who thought themselves British. They thought England would be Jamaica without the sun, but they discovered that they were not only the other, but that they were unwanted, and this was shocking to them. "
The specifics are stunningly precise in scenes where Queenie works in her mother's kitchen on a pork farm or where her milquetoast husband, Bernard, sees terrible things in Burma while in the army.
"I love to find the detail in things, like how somebody stamps out a pork pie my mother-in-law told me all about that then write the fiction around it."
Not that her mother's and father's memories were easy to crack.
"It was hard to get anything out of them. This is one of the reasons why I write, to piece together and make up the life, because that's the only way I can get it. When I wrote the book, I had been working on a project about the black experience in England.
"My mother wishes I would just shut up."