Story of Jamaican migrants wins Orange Prize for Andrea Levy

The British author, Andrea Levy, last night won the £30,000 Orange prize for women's fiction with
Small Island, a tale of Jamaican migration to London after the Second World War.

The British author, Andrea Levy, last night won the £30,000 Orange prize for women's fiction with Small Island, a tale of Jamaican migration to London after the Second World War.

She was honoured for her story which depicts a largely unsung aspect of wartime history - the experience of thousands of Jamaicans who joined the Allied forces but found themselves unwelcome in the UK once their service was over. It is the latest in a series on the theme of Jamaican emigrants to Britain from Ms Levy, who was born in London in 1956 to Jamaican parents.

This year her rivals for the prize included Margaret Atwood, the Canadian author whose 11th novel, Oryx and Crake, has been nominated for several prizes this year but has failed to win; Rose Tremain, the other British writer on the six-strong shortlist with The Colour; and Gillian Slovo, the South African-born author of Ice Road.

Announcing the result at a ceremony in London last night, Sandi Toksvig, the broadcaster who chaired the judges, said Small Island was "an astonishing tour de force".

"Juggling four voices, she illuminates a little-known aspect of recent British history with wit and wisdom. A compassionate account of the problems of post-war immigration, it cannot fail to have a strong modern resonance." Suzie Dooré, the fiction buyer for Waterstone's bookstores, said Andrea Levy was a wonderful writer who really deserved a huge readership. "This prize is fantastic news for her as it will bring her work to the attention of a lot more readers."

Small Island examines the themes of empire, prejudice, war and love in the story of Gilbert Joseph. One of several thousand Jamaican men who joined the RAF to fight Hitler, he comes to England on the SS Windrush afterwards but finds his welcome distinctly cool.

He and his new wife, Hortense, become tenants of his wartime friend, Queenie Blight, whose husband, Bernard, was posted to India during the war but never returned. But Queenie's neighbours disapprove of her Jamaican lodgers, as would her husband, had he been there.

The Orange prize was set up in 1996 to celebrate and promote fiction written by women throughout the world. Despite initial scepticism in some quarters, it has been widely acknowledged as seeking out worthy winners, many of which have been overlooked by other prizes. It is awarded to the best novel of the year written in English by a woman.

The other shortlisted books this year were The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard and Purple Hibiscus, the debut novel from a young Nigerian writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

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