Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Small Island (finished)

Posted by nliakos on June 18, 2006

I completed Small Island this afternoon, reading fast. The last part is mainly taken up with the point of view of Queenie’s given-up-for-lost husband, Bernard. It explores the evils of war, military life, and (as always) racism. When Bernard finally turns up on Queenie’s doorstep unannounced, and the four characters find themselves face to face, Gilbert says, “You know what your trouble is, man?” he said. “Your white skin. You think it makes you better than me. You think it gives you the right to lord it over a black man. But you know what it make you? You wan’ know what your white skin make you, man? It make you white. That is all, man. White. No better, no worse than me–just white….Listen to me, man, we both just finish fighting a war–a bloody war–for the better world we wan’ see. And on the same side–you and me. We both look on other men to see enemy. You and me, fighting for empire, fighting for peace. But still, after all we suffer together, you wan’ tell me I am worthless and you are not. Am I to be the servant and you the master for all time? No. Stop this, man. Stop it now. We can work together, Mr Bligh. You no see? We must. Or else you just gonna fight me till the end?”(p. 435)
It’s a grand speech–even snobby Hortense suddenly realizes when she hears it that Gilbert is “a man of class, a man of character, a man of intelligence.” Too bad Bernard can’t understand what he says. Dialect comes between them like a wall.

Levy ties up the story neatly at the end (a little too neatly for some: see http://jaiarjun.blogspot.com/2005/03/small-island-review.html). I thought it a good book with much to offer. It is always valuable to see the world through the eyes of another.

Times Online review: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2102-1013563,00.html

BBC review by Susannah Cullinane: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/arts/4148921.stm

Links to more reviews of Small Island: http://www.reviewsofbooks.com/small_island/

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