Small Island


Small Island is an international bestseller. It won the Orange Prize for Fiction, The Orange Prize for Fiction: Best of the Best, The Whitbread Novel Award, The Whitbread Book of the Year Award, and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. It has now been adapted for the screen as a coproduction of the BBC and Masterpiece/WGBH Boston.

Hortense Joseph arrives in London from Jamaica in 1948 with her life in her suitcase, her heart broken, her resolve intact. Her husband, Gilbert Joseph, returns from the war expecting to be received as a hero, but finds his status as a black man in Britain to be second class. His white landlady, Queenie, raised as a farmer’s daughter, befriends Gilbert, and later Hortense, with innocence and courage, until the unexpected arrival of her husband, Bernard, who returns from combat with issues of his own to resolve.

Told in these four voices, Small Island is a courageous novel of tender emotion and sparkling wit, of crossings taken and passages lost, of shattering compassion and of reckless optimism in the face of insurmountable barriers—in short, an encapsulation of that most American of experiences: the immigrant’s life.

Small Island


It is 1948, and England is recovering from a war. But at 21 Nevern Street, London, the conflict has only just begun.

Gilbert Joseph was one of thousands of Jamaican men who joined the RAF to fight against Hitler. Returning to England as a civilian, he finds himself treated very differently.

He and his wife Hortense have come in hopes of a new and better life. But London, shabby and decrepit, is far from the golden city of their dreams.

In desperation, Gilbert calls on a wartime friend for help. And Queenie Bligh, against her better judgment, takes them in.

Her neighbours do not approve of her lodgers. But Queenie doesn’t know when her husband will return, or if he will come back at all. What else can she do?

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