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Telling the untold story of Black Britons – through Levy’s highly acclaimed Small Island

Sarah Ladipo Manyika

Small Island is a hitherto untold story of post World War II England. It is a novel that successfully undermines centuries of writing, which have previously ignored the history of the former colonials, their contribution to European wars, and their subsequent lived experiences in British society. Levy not only subverts what has largely been ignored about this historical period and black Europeans in particular, but by choosing to write in the first person for both her Jamaican and British characters, she further challenges status quo.

Levy’s Small Island is groundbreaking in content and style and in its potential contribution to Said and others’ discussion of culture and imperialism. At the same time, there are elements of Small Island, particularly in its recourse to thick exotic descriptions, which could be read in the light of what increasingly seems to be expected of ‘ethnic’ writers by the West today. To what extent, therefore, is a novel like Small Island writing back to empire or writing within the unspoken norms of how the West now deems its former colonials to be writing?

Workshop topic question under Representing Black European History:
What is the significance of the growing literature from the African Diaspora and what does it reveal about Black European history?

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