Small Island by Andrea Levy is a book I was reading for both the Classics and Orbis Terrarum Challenges. In regards to the Classics Challenge the book had been put forward as a future or "should be" classic and I completely agree.
The book is set in the time period just before, during and after WW2 predominately in England and Jamaica and there are 4 main interwoven and connected characters that tell the story from their perspectives.
Queenie Bligh is an English women living in London at the time of WW2, taking care of her fragile father-in-law while her husband, Bernard is in India for the war.
Gilbert Joseph is a Jamaican man who has fought as a member of the British RAF during the war and is now trying to establish a life for himself in London.
Hortense Roberts is Gilbert's new wife, a Jamaican woman with a teachers education behind her, joining Gilbert in London and Bernard Bligh, Queenie's husband.
The book is structured in a way that allows each character to tell their story of certain events in their own voice - each chapter is headed by the name of one of the 4 main characters. The book moves back and forth between the present and the past which allows for a beautiful building of the story.
This story is, on the surface, clearly about the extensive and overt racism that was perpetrated against black people by the English during this time period. Some of the scenes in the book are brutal and (I am sure) very realistic -depicting the harsh, senseless and ignorant beliefs of a whole community against another simply because of the colour of their skin.
As well as race relations the book also tells the story of relations between genders at this particular time in history and it is interesting to see some of the choices made, particularly by the women characters, in relation to marriage, relationships and work.
There are many other levels to this story however, the connections and relationships that are built between people in a time of trauma and pain and the ways in which relationships can be broken down, or simply revealed for what they really are.
I was completely absorbed in this book - I think it is a must read for every person and most definitely a classic.