Sunday, 19 December 2010

Small islands

For the December meeting a suitably Christmas feeling was provided by mulled wine, pumpkin cake, home made mince pies, vegetarian crisps, etc. Thank you everyone who baked and brewed!

Chosen by Helen, this month's read was Andrea Levy's award winning novel Small Island . It tells the story of Caribbeans coming to Britain during WWII to help defend the 'Mother Country' and their subsequent migration here in 1948 on the S.S. Empire Windrush. Told by four voices (two black and two white) the book has many themes: new beginnings; casual, and not so casual, racism; the British Empire; duty; and love.

Although a little slow to start, everyone in the group enjoyed the book. I found the war time experiences of Gilbert especially enlightening. The notion that the U.S. army's segregation applied to black G.I.s even though they were in Britain was maddening. As a black Caribbean Gilbert's treatment was in many ways much better (and maybe that was the reason he chose to return).

Karen judged Hortense snooty, high minded and naive; and found her experience with the interview and the broom cupboard both amusing and saddening. Possibly this was the point when the reader started to empathise with her...

Queenie was liked by June and Jen. Some thought the description of pork pie making too much, but it did introduce Queenie as a 'salt of the earth' no nonsense character who treats Gilbert without prejudice. Marghie enjoyed the vignette provided by the sweet shop owning auntie who encourages Queenie to talk to the respectable, reserved, Bernard.

Janet and Margaret felt Bernard cold and unfeeling; many in the group had no sympathy for the character or his adventures in the war. I surmised he was a vehicle for the feelings of returning soldiers who wanted their country and jobs back. Morag thought his story added little to the plot at that late stage and the reason for his stay in Brighton was amusing to say the least...

Helen said that the ending, with Queenie giving birth to Michael Robert's black child, was predictable. Maybe a twist too many, but overall the group felt it had been another in a series of highly edifying and pleasurable book group choices for 2010.