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The lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon

The lonely Londoners (original 1956; edition 2006)

by Sam Selvon (Author), Nasta Susheila (Introduction)

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4591922,646 (3.63)61
Title:The lonely Londoners
Authors:Sam Selvon (Author)
Other authors:Nasta Susheila (Introduction)
Info:London: Penguin Books (2006)
Collections:Read but unowned, Read All Time, Read in 2012
Tags:English Literature, British Literature, Novel, CASS

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The Lonely Londoners by Samuel Selvon (1956)


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Sam Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners was written in the 1950s in a climate of change for the West Indies and Britain. As the British Empire slowly lost grip of its ‘acquired’ colonies, the British population found themselves with the confronting prospect of their colonial subjects ‘invading’ their white spaces and homeland. The Lonely Londoners tells the story of immigrants coming from the West Indies and Jamaica to London. They are looking for a new start, for a promised land that never seems to live up to their expectations.

London, for many British colonies was and still is an idealised city. Even today, when I speak to many young Australians, they often have a dream of visiting the ‘Mother Country’ and spending time in the city of possibilities: London. (Although if you ask me, 365 days of dark, dank, and dreary weather is not something I call an exciting prospect!) For a city that is surrounded by so much hype it is often hard to not feel disappointed when you finally visit it. And for the characters in Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners, it is often what they experience. They are “spades”, as Selvon calls them, in a sea of white faces. News reporters see them as all the same and these diverse peoples are all lumped into the one boat: they are black and will therefore never be good enough. The beauty though, of Selvon’s writing is that he challenges this monophonic stereotype and enriches the story with a mixture of polyphonic voices that span gender, ethnicity, and class. Selvon manages to tell these imperfect people and their imperfect stories in an honest and unapologetic way. These stories not only reveal racism and discrimination against non-whites in Britain, but also touches on discrimination against white Brits, in particular women.

“Boy, it have bags of white pussy in London, and you will eat till you get tired” (77).

This quote here shows the doubled edged sword of stereotypes: on the one hand, many of these West Indies men are treating white women as an easy prize, and on the other hand, most likely, many white women would be treating these men as a bit of exotic fun before they settle down with a good white husband like their families expect.

Selvon also exposes violence against women in the West Indies and also highlights some of the positive gains West Indies and Jamaican women received when they moved to England.

“Listen, women in this country not like Jamaica, you know. They have rights over here, and they always shouting for something” (54).

Lastly, Selvon touches upon something that feels extremely close to my own heart when he talks about missing home. Moses, the narrator and main protagonist says at the end of the book,

“I go and live in paradise […]” (125).

Home for Moses becomes an abstract, intangible place that can only be accessed through his memories and mind. In thinking of his home as a paradise, he has forgotten why he left and the troubles he tried to escape. Home becomes like a dead relative: memorialised and made divine. It only lives on through memories and nostalgic afternoons spent looking out into the grey fog.

If you want to read something out of your comfort zone from a linguistic and narrative perspective then I urge you to find a copy of Selvon’s book! ASAP. ( )
1 vote bound2books | Feb 12, 2017 |
The immigrant experience was never so well told as it is in this short novel. Furthermore the ability of the author to demonstrate that experience through his prose was so successful that I was reminded why I love reading. Set in London in the early nineteen fifties it provides an entry into a world that is both far away and familiar at the same time.

Covering a period of roughly three years, it has no plot but is picaresque or episodic as it follows a limited number of characters of the "Windrush generation", all of them "coloureds", through their daily lives in the capital. The various threads of action form a whole through the unifying central character of Trinidadian Moses Aloetta, a veteran emigré who, after more than ten years in London, has still not achieved anything of note and whose homesickness increases as he gets older. Every Sunday morning "the boys", many a recent arrival among them, come together in his rented room to trade stories and inquire after those whom they have not seen for a while.

The immigrants in this story are treated poorly with low-level jobs that are insufficient to provide for more than the most basic necessities. They live on the fringe of the host society that regards them with indifference or hostility. Throughout the force of race and color prejudice is shown in incidents and through conversations but always with a sense of the human comedy that buoys most of the Caribbean natives that populate the story. Moses who has been in London a while shares his experience with newcomers or tries to if they will listen to him.

Early in the story Moses meets a newcomer named Henry Oliver (nicknamed Galahad) who is just "off the boat".
"From the very beginning they out to give you the impression that they hep, that they on the ball, that nobody could tie them up.
Sir Galahad was a fellar like that, and he was trying hard to give Moses the feeling that everything all right, that he could take care of himself, that he don't want help for anything. So that same morning when they finish eating Moses tell him that he would o with him to help him find a work, but Galahad say: 'Don't worry man, I will make out for myself.'"

Galahad goes out and immediately gets lost, but Moses follows him and persuades Galahad to take his advice and get a job, but be sure to find a place to live close to where you work. The patois of the immigrants has an almost musical quality in its simplicity and lack of tense. As the story continues more characters are introduced, in episodic fashion, each with their own idiosyncrasies. Despite their differences, their newness and unfamiliarity with the surroundings they are able to make a home within the larger urban environment provided by the city of London. Near the end of the story they come together for a "fete", a celebration and dance. They are enjoying themselves and for a moment forget about the life they left in the Caribbean, the daily difficulties they face in London, and the loneliness that remains a part of their lives.

"The changing of the seasons, the cold slicing winds, the falling leaves, sunlight on green grass, snow on the land, London particular. Oh what it is and where it is and why it is, no one knows, but to have said: 'I walked on Waterloo Bridge,' 'I rendezvoused at Charing Cross,' "Picadilly Circus is my playground,' to say these things, to have lived these, things, to have lived in the great city of London, centre of the world." ( )
1 vote jwhenderson | Feb 22, 2016 |
The Lonely Londoners was Selvon's second novel, written in the first couple of years after he arrived in Britain from Trinidad. As you might expect, it deals with the problems and hardships of newly-arrived Caribbean immigrants in London: the difficulty of finding decent jobs and accommodation, coping with British people who hadn't yet learnt to live with people from different backgrounds, and so on. What you don't expect, though, is what Selvon does with this subject-matter. Never one to fit into anyone else's stereotype of what a postcolonial writer should be, he sets the squalor of immigrant life against the glory of exploring your youth and independence in a city like London. He turns it into a glorious, upbeat poetic celebration of London and of Caribbean individuality: imagine Damon Runyon writing Mrs Dalloway after listening to too many calypsos, or James Kelman if he were a few decades older and Trinidadian not Glaswegian, and you get the general idea, but you really have to read it yourself.
Like a lot of British writing of the 1950s, it's all rather misogynistic: it's a novel about a bunch of young men on the loose in which women appear only as disposable girlfriends or embarrassing mothers, but Selvon usually makes it pretty clear that he doesn't intend you to take his narrator's view of things entirely at face value. ( )
1 vote thorold | Jan 2, 2016 |
The Lonely Londoners centers around the life of Moses Aleotta, a West Indian, who has lived in London for 10 years. He makes a new friend named Galahad who is struck by the brilliance of London. Moses sees himself in this newcomer, how at first he was full of hopes and dreams that diminished during his ten years of living there, and knows that Galahad will become disillusioned. Though he attempts to not get Galahad's hopes up, Moses himself changes throughout the novel and becomes hopeful again,as he discovers that if his West Indian community sticks together, they can still live in their own culture and find ways to survive in London.

This is the story of London's West Indians who face racism and a limited number of opportunities. What I found really interesting about this novel is how it is written in the vernacular, a West Indian English which gave the novel a different rhythm. This novel is a gem, I am glad one of my professors had the class read it. It is definitely a great starting point if you want to read more Caribbean literature. ( )
  est-lm | May 3, 2014 |
bookshelves: london, lifestyles-deathstyles, britain-england, published-1956, winter-20132014, contemporary
Recommended for: BBC Radio Listeners
Read from January 04 to 12, 2014


BBC Blurb: Sam Selvon's rich and touching 1956 novel about the lives of a group of Caribbean immigrants in London opens as Moses Aloetta, an old hand who has lived in the city for ten years, goes to Waterloo station to meet another boat train of hopeful new arrivals from the West Indies. They've come to find work and wealth in the capital of the mother country, but they meet with a cold welcome and bitter weather. Despite this, Moses and his friends of the Windrush generation go about making new lives for themselves with vigour and panache, navigating the rules and regulations of their new home, lending support to each other when needed, learning to survive; it's not long before, as Moses puts it, 'the boys coming and going, working, eating, sleeping, going about the vast metropolis like veteran Londoners.'

The Lonely Londoners will be broadcast the week before Colin MacInnes' vibrant novel about London, Absolute Beginners, set just a couple of years later as racial tensions rise; together the two books offer an unforgettable portrait of a city and a society undergoing convulsive change.

Reader: Don Warrington Abridged by Lauris Morgan-Griffiths Producer: Sara Davies.

1. Don Warrington reads Sam Selvon's 1950's classic about the lives of a group of Caribbean immigrants in London.

2. Moses has met Sir Galahad off the boat train at Waterloo and sets about introducing him to his new home. Galahad is keen to show he's not overawed by London, but a trip to the employment exchange leaves him in need of Moses' help.

3. Moses's friend Tolroy was horrified when his entire family turned up at Waterloo, wanting to enjoy his new prosperity in London. He has eventually got them settled off the Harrow Road, and Aunt Tanty is rapidly becoming a well-known character in the area. But she still hasn't ventured into the centre if the city by tube or bus, something that she decides to remedy.

4. Galahad is getting on well in London, in fact he sometimes feels like a king as he strolls through the park, three or four pounds in his pocket, sharp clothes on, off to meet a new girl under the clock in Piccadilly tube station. But there's a darker side to the city, and a hungrier one, that prompts Galahad into a high-risk exploit.

5. As summer comes to the city, Moses's friend Harris organises a dance, and Moses contemplates his life after ten years in London.

Listen here. Theme tune: LORD KITCHENER - London Is the Place for Me

That is the first time I have noticed a broadcasting mistake - they aired #3 on Tuesday and #2 on Wednesday. Keeps us on our toes! ( )
  mimal | Jan 12, 2014 |
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One grim winter evening, when it had a kind of unrealness about London, with a fog sleeping restlessly over the city and the lights showing in the blur as if is not London at all but some strange place on another planet, Moses Aloetta hop on a number 46 bus at the corner of Chepstow Road and Westbourne Grove to go to Waterloo to meet a fellar who was coming from Trinidad on the boat-train.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0582642647, Paperback)

The Lonely Londoners from the brilliant, sharp, witty pen of Sam Selvon, this is a classic award-winning novel of immigrant life in London in the 1950s.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:54 -0400)

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