“When I started out, I was seen as a sort of marginal voice; the attitude was that only black people would read the books,” Levy says during an interview at the comfortable Edwardian house in north London she shares with her husband, a graphic designer.
“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. They didn’t think there’d be a market for it.”
That impression has been exploded by several blockbuster novels exploring Britain’s – and especially London’s – rich multicultural history. Zadie Smith’s 2000 bestseller, “White Teeth” – an expansive saga that found room for Muslim fundamentalists, anarchists and Jehovah’s Witnesses – has sold more than 1 million copies and been turned into a British TV series.
Monica Ali’s “Brick Lane,” the story of Bangladeshi immigrants in London’s East End, was nominated for the 2003 Booker Prize and topped bestseller lists.
“I think that, as always happens, publishers get taken by surprise,” Levy says, “and things that they didn’t think would take off do.”
Just once I wish the reporter assigned to Levy wouldn’t make the comparison with Zadie Smith and Monica Ali. (One wonders why those comparisons were not made on the publication of Levy’s previous novel, or, for that matter, why Smith and Ali weren’t compared to Levy, who’s been writing and publishing for far longer.) And while I’m at it, I do wish reporters would just stop making stories by writers of color seem like the flavor of the moment. Newsflash: writers of color are here to stay.