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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Lonely Londoners (1956) by Samuel Selvon

Samluel Selvon was the child of East Indian immigrants who came to Trinidad.  He moved to London as a young man and later lived in Canada for many years, where he languished in obscurity.  The Lonely Londoners is the first realistic depiction of the West Indian immigrant experience in London after World War II.
Book Review
The Lonely Londoners (1956)
by Samuel Selvon

   The Lonely Londoners presumably earned its place in the 1001 Books project because it was the first novel that tackled the experience of West Indian immigrants to London after World War II.  Samuel Selvon was the children of East Indian immigrants to the West Indies, and after World War II he made his way to London and eventually to Canada, where he lived in obscurity for decades before his death.

  The Lonely Londoners are a group of loosely affiliated West Indians, mostly unattached young men and one extended family, who are trying to make their way in the wilds of post World War II London.  Selvon uses the now familiar West Indian patois, with everything short of "Mon" thrown in the pot, in a way that brings to life these types in the same way that the Beats used hipster slang to convey their American characters.  Lonely Londoners reads more like a series of character sketches than a fully formed novel, and at only 150 pages, it winds up before the reader begins to deeply identify with anyone.

  Interracial relationships were a necessity because of the heavily male representation among West Indian immigrants, and the most compelling moments in The Lonely Londoners concerns these encounters.  Selvon casually handles a topic that might have prevented an American author from ever being published.  As the characters themselves point out, the West Indians were citizens of the realm, and should have been entitled to full credit in the home capital, but of course the actual experienced was different, with racism manifesting itself in a variety of subtle and not so subtle ways.

  The Lovely Londoners is another title in the 1001 Books project that dramatically reflects the location of the editors (England).  The Lovely Londoners isn't even in print in the United States, and it may have never had an American edition beyond the initial press.  Finding it was a matter of some trial, and on Amazon you can expect to pay 10 dollars or more for the 150 pages of text.  My library copy was brought directly from storage, where it had lay unread for over 20 years.  Astonishing.


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