The Lonely Londoners - Samuel Selvon
This book centers on a number of immigrants to London, mostly black West Indians. Most prominently there's Moses, who starts out the book with a grumpy mood and a cynical attitude, telling a new arrival, "Though the boys does have to get up and hustle a lot, still every man on his own. It ain't have no s--- over here like 'both of we is Trinidadians and we must help out one another.' You going to meet a lot of fellars from home who don't even want to talk to you, because they have matters on the mind." But somehow Moses always finds himself showing people around, sharing his meals, lending money, helping out. The new arrival is Galahad, supremely confident and cheerful, meeting every experience as a grand adventure. Then there's Captain, the smooth-talking Nigerian who lives high on the hog without doing any work, somehow always getting credit, winning over women, sponging his way through life; no one can stay mad at him permanently. There's Bart, who'd like to live like Captain, but is too scared to; he's in a perpetual state of desperation, unable to get money and women, holding on to anything he gets with a terrified grip. There's Tolroy, who wrote home to his family that he was making five pounds a week (a low wage by London standards), and had half-a-dozen relatives show up, confident that he could support them and fix them up with jobs. There's Tanty Bessy, who turns the Harrow Road into a piece of Trinidad with her social networking. And more. I have to say, the characters seem just a little "typed", but the way the story's told is vivid, and there are lots of interesting observations on the means of living in London.

Attitude seems to be the key to doing well in London: not in terms of money, because nobody has much, but in terms of making good times out of one's circumstances -- those who drive ahead with confidence and act like they're entitled (Captain, Tanty) get people to accommodate them and are never completely lost. To Galahad, London is a wonderland, and that's how he lives. But people can't be happy if they have unattainable aspirations, like Harris who wants to get into Society or Big City who wants to win £75,000 in the football pools. Bart makes even quite ordinary aspirations difficult with his fear. And Moses, even though no particular disasters happen to him, is nonetheless miserable. It seems it's the little daily cuts of racism that are so wearing, living among indifferent crowds, and being surrounded by things to desire, and always wanting to "get ahead". That's why London is so lonely. No wonder Moses thinks it would be nice to live in a little village in Trinidad, where you'd meet no one but friends, and you'd be poor, but so would everyone else on the island. But none of the Londoners ever goes back; they can't stop wanting, chasing the shiny prize that's always out of reach, even though it can seem close on a beautiful summer day.