Lead Review

  • Book: An Ocean Apart
  • Location: Caribbean, Hertfordshire, London
  • Author: Sarah Lee

Review Author: Tina Hartas



We meet sisters Connie and Ruby on the Sorrento, a ship transporting them from Barbados to England, where they are contracted to train as nurses at St Mary’s in Hertfordshire. They soon meet Billie, who is from Jamaica and they have to explain to their fellow students that these Caribbean islands are in fact not the same place, but separated by 1,200 miles of ocean. They are not only introducing the locals to their culture but they too have a lot of learning to undertake in England, understanding the customs, trying fish and chips for the first time, going to the pub and getting to grips with the weather and cold climate.

The training of the new recruits gets underway in the hospital. They are a valuable workforce to boost the NHS programme, which was set up just a few years previously in 1948. They study under the watchful eye of their seniors. There is student Margaret from Hampshire, the cliché racist who tries to upset the applecart and will stop at nothing to put these incomers in their place. The author explores what it means to be an immigrant, why people might leave their homeland to travel so far. This novel feels particularly pertinent given the furore that has been stoked up in this country at the moment; it offers context to the Windrush generation, people from far away lands, who were invited to take up jobs in the UK.

The women are young and out-going and pop to London to meet their beaus and have trysts, there is romance in the air, there is the considerable adjustment that each young woman has to make, and there is a lot of studying to do in order to get past the final nursing post and be able to wear the cape, cap and the belted uniform.

This is an easy-to-read story and has a nice storyline, featuring a group of optimistic young women at its heart. Setting isn’t particularly strong.

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