Obituaries

‘Small Island’ author Andrea Levy dies of cancer at age 62

British author Andrea Levy in 2005.
Alastair Grant/Associated Press/File
British author Andrea Levy in 2005.

LONDON — Andrea Levy, a prize-winning novelist who chronicled the hopes and horrors of the post-World War II generation of Jamaican immigrants in Britain, has died at 62 of cancer.

One of the first black British authors to achieve both critical and commercial success, Ms. Levy was best known for ‘‘Small Island,’’ the story of two couples, one English and one Jamaican, whose lives intertwine in London after the war.

The saga of war and racism won several literary prizes: the Orange Prize for women’s fiction, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, and the Whitbread Book of the Year award.

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Ms. Levy, who grew up in public housing in London, started writing fiction in her 30s when she enrolled in a creative writing course. Her first books ‘‘Every Light in the House Burnin,’ ’’ ‘‘Never Far From Nowhere,’’ and ‘‘Fruit of the Lemon’’ drew on her background as the child of Jamaican immigrants.

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Though critically praised, they failed to win a mass audience. That changed with ‘‘Small Island,’’ which made Ms. Levy one of Britain’s hottest writers.

Her most recent novel, ‘‘The Long Song,’’ tells of a house slave in 19th-century Jamaica and was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize. She also published ‘‘Six Stories and an Essay’’ in 2014, a series of short stories and a piece about her Caribbean heritage.

‘‘Small Island’’ and ‘‘The Long Song’’ were adapted for TV, and a stage version of ‘‘Small Island’’ is opening at the National Theatre this spring.

‘‘When I started out, I was seen as a sort of marginal voice — the attitude was that only black people would read the books,’’ Ms. Levy said in 2005. ‘‘It was very hard because I was writing something a little bit different, in that I was just writing about family, small stories. At that time, the prevailing trend was more sort of guns and drugs and stuff, and so they didn’t quite know what to do with me.”

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But ‘‘Small Island’’ became a word-of-mouth success, helped by warm reviews on Internet discussion groups. It focused on people like her parents — the post-war ‘‘Windrush generation,’’ named for the SS Empire Windrush, a former troop ship that sailed from Jamaica to England in 1948 carrying hundreds of West Indian migrants.

The migrants, many of whom in World War II, often found themselves unwelcome in Britain. Two characters from the book, Gilbert and Hortense, are shocked by the racism and by the realization the ‘‘Mother Country’’ is a shabby, dark nation recovering from war.

‘‘I don’t believe in good and evil,” Ms. Levy said. “I think we all have the capacity for both, every one of us, depending on circumstances. I like to bring that out in characters.’’