For those who lived in the former British colonies, they hoped that the motherland would provide them with opportunities that they did not have at home.
Some would be sorely disappointed.
Andrea Levy’s novel, Small Island, focuses on four distinct characters, two of whom hope that World War II has opened doors for them.
In 1948, Hortense Joseph leaves Jamaica for London. Her husband, Gilbert, joined the British army and finds that after the war, despite his service, he is considered to be second class due to his skin color. Gilbert’s white landlady, Queenie is living with her father in law while her husband, Bernard is away, fighting for king and country. But when he returns from the war, Bernard is suffering from unresolved issues from the war.
In 2009, Small Island was made into a TV movie starring Naomi Harris as Hortense, David Oyelowo as Gilbert, Ruth Wilson as Queenie and Benedict Cumberbatch as Bernard.
I enjoyed both the book and the television adaptation. It sheds light on a subject that many are unaware of. While the American civil rights movement in the 1960’s and 1970’s has become mythic in it’s own right, it is less known outside of Britain of the lives of it’s former colonists and their struggle to equality, acceptance and opportunities in the motherland.
Lorrie Moore’s 1997 book, Self Help, is a series of 9 short stories about the ordinariness and the experiences of life.
The stories include a tale of a woman having an affair with a married man, a woman who has just buried her mother and a woman who sick with a terminal illness and contemplating suicide.
While the stories are short, they are powerful. Short stories are a challenge, even to the best of writers. What Ms. Moore does very well is that she uses the limited space and time to deftly draw the reader in and take them on a journey with her characters. These stories are extremely well written and will leave the reader wanting more.
The 1950’s are often viewed with the lenses rose colored glasses. Television programs like the Donna Reed Show and Father Knows Best presented the image of the perfect Caucasian middle class family where the problems were simple and solvable with 30 minutes. Life is never that perfect or that easy.
Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates’s novel about the imperfections beneath the surface, was published in 2000.
Frank and April Wheeler are living what seems to be the perfect suburban middle class life in the 1950’s. But there are issues bubbling beneath the surface the threaten their marriage, their family and the image that they have cultivated for their friends and neighbors.
In 2008, the book was adapted into a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.
The book and the movie are both incredible. Despite it’s glossy image, the 1950’s was a very complicated and dark decade. Like any couple, Frank and April had problems that are not always obvious to the passerby, but upon further inspection, reveals large issues that are unresolved. The end is unflinchingly heart breaking.