White Teeth

White Teeth

4.0 100
by Zadie Smith

View All Available Formats & Editions

On New Year's morning, 1975, Archie Jones sits in his car on a London road and waits for the exhaust fumes to fill his Cavalier Musketeer station wagon. Archie—working-class, ordinary, a failed marriage under his belt—is calling it quits, the deciding factor being the flip of a 20-pence coin. When the owner of a nearby halal butcher shop (annoyed that…  See more details below


On New Year's morning, 1975, Archie Jones sits in his car on a London road and waits for the exhaust fumes to fill his Cavalier Musketeer station wagon. Archie—working-class, ordinary, a failed marriage under his belt—is calling it quits, the deciding factor being the flip of a 20-pence coin. When the owner of a nearby halal butcher shop (annoyed that Archie's car is blocking his delivery area) comes out and bangs on the window, he gives Archie another chance at life and sets in motion this richly imagined, uproariously funny novel.

Epic and intimate, hilarious and poignant, White Teeth is the story of two North London families—one headed by Archie, the other by Archie's best friend, a Muslim Bengali named Samad Iqbal. Pals since they served together in World War II, Archie and Samad are a decidedly unlikely pair. Plodding Archie is typical in every way until he marries Clara, a beautiful, toothless Jamaican woman half his age, and the couple have a daughter named Irie (the Jamaican word for "no problem"). Samad—devoutly Muslim, hopelessly "foreign"—weds the feisty and always suspicious Alsana in a prearranged union. They have twin sons named Millat and Magid, one a pot-smoking punk-cum-militant Muslim and the other an insufferable science nerd. The riotous and tortured histories of the Joneses and the Iqbals are fundamentally intertwined, capturing an empire's worth of cultural identity, history, and hope.

Zadie Smith's dazzling first novel plays out its bounding, vibrant course in a Jamaican hair salon in North London, an Indian restaurant in Leicester Square, an Irish poolroom turned immigrant café, a liberal publicschool, a sleek science institute. A winning debut in every respect, White Teeth marks the arrival of a wondrously talented writer who takes on the big themes—faith, race, gender, history, and culture—and triumphs.

About the Author:
Zadie Smith is twenty-four years old and a graduate of Cambridge University. White Teeth is her first novel, parts of which have appeared in Granta. Smith lives in North London.|

Read More

Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
Smith's debut has been described as "precocious," and our volunteer readers eagerly anticipated the arrival of our reader's copies of this work. In fact, we had planned to highlight this amazing stew of a novel last season. But once we determined its May publication date, we decided that rather than promote a title a month in advance of its publication and frustrate readers who'd have to wait, we'd do so in July with our summer selections. One thing is clear: our claim of Zadie Smith as a "great new writer" is no longer a solo voice-she's since been mentioned in the same breath as Dickens and Rushdie, Proust, Hemingway and Forster (as in E.M.)!

In this remarkable novel set in postwar London, 24-year-old Smith has cleverly created an unlikely friendship between Archie Jones, a simple working-class Brit, and Samad Iqbal, a Muslim Bengali waiter in an Indian restaurant, who meet in the English army in WWII. After the war, the two commiserate over their lives and those of their children; their dreams, disappointments and expectations unfolding with riotous humor as the characters in both generations struggle to carve out their own cultural identities. As Samad himself says, "…you begin to give up the very idea of belonging. Suddenly, this thing, this belonging, it seems like some long, dirty lie."

White Teeth is filled to bursting with all the sights, sounds, tastes and smells of London. Melding races and cultures with a near-perfect ear for dialogue and dialect, and weaving successfully (albeit uproariously) between themes of history, religion, faith and science, Zadie Smith's is a stunning, self-assured debut, and an unforgettable new voice in fiction.

Product Details

Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
4.50(w) x 6.00(h) x 1.34(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Peculiar Second Marriage of Archie Jones

Early in the morning, late in the century, Cricklewood Broadway. At 06.27 hours on 1 January 1975, Alfred Archibald Jones was dressed in corduroy and sat in a fume-filled Cavalier Musketeer Estate face down on the steering wheel, hoping the judgement would not be too heavy upon him. He lay forward in a prostrate cross, jaw slack, arms splayed either side like some fallen angel; scrunched up in each fist he held his army service medals (left) and his marriage license (right), for he had decided to take his mistakes with him. A little green light flashed in his eye, signaling a right turn he had resolved never to make. He was resigned to it. He was prepared for it. He had flipped a coin and stood staunchly by its conclusions. This was a decided-upon suicide. In fact it was a New Year's resolution.

But even as his breathing became spasmodic and his lights dimmed, Archie was aware that Cricklewood Broadway would seem a strange choice. Strange to the first person to notice his slumped figure through the windscreen, strange to the policemen who would file the report, to the local journalist called upon to write fifty words, to the next of kin who would read them. Squeezed between an almighty concrete cinema complex at one end and a giant intersection at the other, Cricklewood was no kind of place. It was not a place a man came to die. It was a place a man came in order to go other places via the A41. But Archie Jones didn't want to die in some pleasant, distant woodland, or on a cliff edge fringed with delicate heather. The way Archie saw it, country people should die in the country and city people should die in the city.Only proper. In death as he was in life and all that. It made sense that Archibald should die on this nasty urban street where he had ended up, living alone at the age of forty-seven, in a one-bedroom flat above a deserted chip shop. He wasn't the type to make elaborate plans - suicide notes and funeral instructions - he wasn't the type for anything fancy. All he asked for was a bit of silence, a bit of shush so he could concentrate. He wanted it to be perfectly quiet and still, like the inside of an empty confessional box or the moment in the brain between thought and speech. He wanted to do it before the shops opened.

Overhead, a gang of the local flying vermin took off from some unseen perch, swooped, and seemed to be zeroing in on Archie's car roof - only to perform, at the last moment, an impressive U-turn, moving as one with the elegance of a curve ball and landing on the Hussein-Ishmael, a celebrated halal butchers. Archie was too far gone to make a big noise about it, but he watched them with a warm internal smile as they deposited their load, streaking white walls purple. He watched them stretch their peering bird heads over the Hussein-Ishmael gutter; he watched them watch the slow and steady draining of blood from the dead things - chickens, cows, sheep - hanging on their hooks like coats around the shop. The Unlucky. These pigeons had an instinct for the Unlucky, and so they passed Archie by. For, though he did not know it, and despite the Hoover tube that lay on the passenger seat pumping from the exhaust pipe into his lungs, luck was with him that morning. The thinnest covering of luck was on him like fresh dew. Whilst he slipped in and out of consciousness, the position of the planets, the music of the spheres, the flap of a tiger-moth's diaphanous wings in Central Africa, and a whole bunch of other stuff that Makes Shit Happen had decided it was second-chance time for Archie. Somewhere, somehow, by somebody, it had been decided that he would live.


The Hussein-Ishmael was owned by Mo Hussein-Ishmael, a great bull of a man with hair that rose and fell in a quaff, then a ducktail. Mo believed that with pigeons you have to get to the root of the problem: not the excretions but the pigeon itself. The shit is not the shit (this was Mo's mantra); the pigeon is the shit. So the morning of Archie's almost-death began as every morning in the Hussein-Ishmael, with Mo resting his huge belly on the windowsill, leaning out and swinging a meat cleaver in an attempt to halt the flow of dribbling purple.

'Get out of it! Get away, you shit-making bastards! Yes! SIX!'

It was cricket, basically - the Englishman's game adapted by the immigrant, and six was the most pigeons you could get at one swipe.

'Varin!' said Mo, calling down to the street, holding the bloodied cleaver up in triumph. 'You're in to bat, my boy. Ready?'

Below him on the pavement stood Varin - a massively overweight Hindu boy on misjudged work experience from the school round the corner, looking up like a big dejected blob underneath Mo's question mark. It was Varin's job to struggle up a ladder and gather spliced bits of pigeon into a small Kwik Save carrier bag, tie the bag up, and dispose of it in the bins at the other end of the street.

'Come on, Mr. Fatty-man,' yelled one of Mo's kitchen staff, poking Varin up the arse with a broom as punctuation for each word. 'Get-your-fat-Ganesh-Hindu-backside-up-there-Elephant-Boy-and-bring-some-of-that-mashed-pigeon-stuff-with-you.'

Mo wiped the sweat off his forehead, snorted, and looked out over Cricklewood, surveying the discarded armchairs and strips of carpet, outdoor lounges for local drunks; the slot-machine emporiums, the greasy spoons and the minicabs - all covered in shit. One day, so Mo believed, Cricklewood and its residents would have cause to thank him for his daily massacre; one day no man, woman or child in the broadway would ever again have to mix one part detergent to four parts vinegar to clean up the crap that falls on the world. The shit is not the shit, he repeated solemnly, the pigeon is the shit. Mo was the only man in the community who truly understood. He was feeling really very Zen about this - very goodwill-to-all-men - until he spotted Archie's car.


A shifty-looking skinny guy with a handlebar moustache, dressed in four different shades of brown, came out of the shop, with blood on his palms.

'Arshad!' Mo barely restrained himself, stabbed his finger in the direction of the car. 'My boy, I'm going to ask you just once.'

'Yes, Abba?' said Arshad, shifting from foot to foot.

'What the hell is this? What is this doing here? I got delivery at 6.30. I got fifteen dead bovines turning up here at 6.30. I got to get it in the back. That's my job. You see? There's meat coming. So, I am perplexed--' Mo affected a look of innocent confusion. 'Because I thought this was clearly marked "Delivery Area".' He pointed to an aging wooden crate which bore the legend NO PARKINGS OF ANY VEHICLE ON ANY DAYS. Well?'

'I don't know, Abba.'

'You're my son, Arshad. I don't employ you not to know. I employ him not to know' - he reached out of the window and slapped Varin, who was negotiating the perilous gutter like a tightrope-walker, giving him a thorough cosh to the back of his head and almost knocking the boy off his perch -'I employ you to know things. To compute information. To bring into the light the great darkness of the creator's unexplainable universe.'


'Find out what it's doing there and get rid of it.'

Mo disappeared from the window. A minute later Arshad returned with the explanation. 'Abba.'

Mo's head sprang back through the window like a malicious cuckoo from a Swiss clock.

'He's gassing himself, Abba.'


Arshad shrugged. 'I shouted through the car window and told the guy to move on and he says, "I am gassing myself, leave me alone." Like that.'

'No one gasses himself on my property,' Mo snapped as he marched downstairs. 'We are not licensed.'

Once in the street, Mo advanced upon Archie's car, pulled out the towels that were sealing the gap in the driver's window, and pushed it down five inches with brute, bullish force.

'Do you hear that, mister? We're not licensed for suicides around here. This place halal. Kosher, understand? If you're going to die round here, my friend, I'm afraid you've got to be thoroughly bled first.'

Archie dragged his head off the steering wheel. And in the moment between focusing on the sweaty bulk of a brown-skinned Elvis and realizing that life was still his, he had a kind of epiphany. It occurred to him that, for the first time since his birth, Life had said Yes to Archie Jones. Not simply an 'OK' or 'You-might-as-well-carry-on-since-you've-started', but a resounding affirmative. Life wanted Archie. She had jealously grabbed him from the jaws of death, back to her bosom. Although he was not one of her better specimens, Life wanted Archie and Archie, much to his own surprise, wanted Life.

Frantically, he wound down both his windows and gasped for oxygen from the very depths of his lungs. In between gulps he thanked Mo profusely, tears streaming down his cheeks, his hands clinging on to Mo's apron.

'All right, all right,' said the butcher, freeing himself from Archie's fingers and brushing himself clean, 'move along now. I've got meat coming. I'm in the business of bleeding. Not counseling. You want Lonely Street. This Cricklewood Lane.'

Archie, still choking on thank yous, reversed, pulled out from the curb, and turned right.


Archie Jones attempted suicide because his wife Ophelia, a violet-eyed Italian with a faint moustache, had recently divorced him. But he had not spent New Year's morning gagging on the tube of a vacuum cleaner because he loved her. It was rather because he had lived with her for so long and had not loved her. Archie's marriage felt like buying a pair of shoes, taking them home and finding they don't fit. For the sake of appearances, he put up with them. And then, all of a sudden and after thirty years, the shoes picked themselves up and walked out of the house. She left. Thirty years.

As far as he remembered, just like everybody else they began well. The first spring of 1946, he had stumbled out of the darkness of war and into a Florentine coffee house, where he was served by a waitress truly like the sun: Ophelia Diagilo, dressed all in yellow, spreading warmth and the promise of sex as she passed him a frothy cappuccino. They walked into it blinkered as horses. She was not to know that women never stayed as daylight in Archie's life; that somewhere in him he didn't like them, he didn't trust them, and he was able to love them only if they wore haloes. No one told Archie that lurking in the Diagilo family tree were two hysteric aunts, an uncle who talked to aubergines and a cousin who wore his clothes back to front. So they got married and returned to England, where she realized very quickly her mistake, he drove her very quickly mad, and the halo was packed off to the attic to collect dust with the rest of the bric-a-brac and broken kitchen appliances that Archie promised one day to repair. Amongst that bric-a-brac was a Hoover.

On Boxing Day morning, six days before he parked outside Mo's halal butchers, Archie had returned to their semi-detached in Hendon in search of that Hoover. It was his fourth trip to the attic in so many days, ferrying out the odds and ends of a marriage to his new flat, and the Hoover was amongst the very last items he reclaimed - one of the most broken things, most ugly things, the things you demand out of sheer bloody-mindedness because you have lost the house. This is what divorce is: taking things you no longer want from people you no longer love.

'So you again,' said the Spanish home-help at the door, Santa-Maria or Maria-Santa or something. 'Meester Jones, what now? Kitchen sink, si?'

'Hoover,' said Archie, grimly. 'Vacuum.'

She cut her eyes at him and spat on the doormat inches from his shoes. 'Welcome, senor.'

The place had become a haven for people who hated him. Apart from the home-help, he had to contend with Ophelia's extended Italian family, her mental-health nurse, the woman from the council, and of course Ophelia herself, who was to be found in the kernel of this nuthouse, curled up in a foetal ball on the sofa, making lowing sounds into a bottle of Bailey's. It took him an hour and a quarter just to get through enemy lines - and for what? A perverse Hoover, discarded months earlier because it was determined to perform the opposite of every vacuum's objective: spewing out dust instead of sucking it in.

'Meester Jones, why do you come here when it make you so unhappy? Be reasonable. What can you want with it?' The home-help was following him up the attic stairs, armed with some kind of cleaning fluid: 'It's broken. You don't need this. See? See?' She plugged it into a socket and demonstrated the dead switch. Archie took the plug out and silently wound the cord round the Hoover. If it was broken, it was coming with him. All broken things were coming with him. He was going to fix every damn broken thing in this house, if only to show that he was good for something.

'You good for nothing!' Santa whoever chased him back down the stairs. 'Your wife is ill in her head, and this is all you can do!'

Archie hugged the Hoover to his chest and took it into the crowded living room, where, under several pairs of reproachful eyes, he got out his toolbox and started work on it.

'Look at him,' said one of the Italian grandmothers, the more glamorous one with the big scarves and fewer moles, 'he take everything, capisce? He take-a her mind, he take-a the blender, he take-a the old stereo - he take-a everything except the floorboards. It make-a you sick. . .'

The woman from the council, who even on dry days resembled a long-haired cat soaked to the skin, shook her skinny head in agreement. 'It's disgusting, you don't have to tell me, it's disgusting ... and naturally, we're the ones left to sort out the mess; it's muggins here who has to -'

Which was overlapped by the nurse: 'She can't stay here alone, can she ... now he's buggered off, poor woman ... she needs a proper home, she needs . . .'

I'm here, Archie felt like saying, I'm right here you know, I'm bloody right here. And it was my blender.

But he wasn't one for confrontation, Archie. He listened to them all for another fifteen minutes, mute as he tested the Hoover's suction against pieces of newspaper, until he was overcome by the sensation that Life was an enormous rucksack so impossibly heavy that, even though it meant losing everything, it was infinitely easier to leave all baggage here on the roadside and walk on into the blackness. You don't need the blender, Archie-boy, you don't need the Hoover. This stuff's all dead weight. Just lay down the rucksack, Arch, and join the happy campers in the sky. Was that wrong? To Archie - ex-wife and ex-wife's relatives in one ear, spluttering vacuum in the other - it just seemed that The End was unavoidably nigh. Nothing personal to God or whatever. It just felt like the end of the world. And he was going to need more than poor whisky, novelty crackers and a paltry box of Quality Street - all the strawberry ones already scoffed - to justify entering another annum.

Patiently he fixed the Hoover, and vacuumed the living room with a strange methodical finality, shoving the nozzle into the most difficult comers. Solemnly he flipped a coin (heads, life, tails, death) and felt nothing in particular when he found himself staring at the dancing lion. Quietly he detached the Hoover tube, put it in a suitcase, and left the house for the last time.

Read More

What People are saying about this

Salman Rushdie
Zadie Smith's fizzing first novel is about how we all got here--from the Caribbean, from the Indian subcontinent, from thirteenth place in a long-ago Olympic bicycle race--and about what 'here' turned out to be. It's an astonishingly assured debut, funny and serious, and the voice has real writerly idiosyncrasy. I was delighted by White Teeth and often impressed. It has....bite.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >

White Teeth 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 100 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
3 1/2 stars, really. Without a doubt, this is an ambitious and successful debut by a talented writer. Smith's voice is distinct and engaging, as well as funny in that sly British way (no American guffawing here). However, I was not 100% in love with 'White Teeth.' I'm not sure why, although it may have something to do with the fact that I invested so much time and energy to the characters (their lives, histories, relationships) only to have the ending kind of dribble to a close. Still, it was an enjoyable read¿¿I'm not sorry I read it and I would recommend it to others. Just be aware that depending on your tastes, it may not quite live up to all the glowing reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really liked Zadie Smith's writing style in that her descriptions were fantastic. The only thing this book was missing was a plot which is fairly important in my opinion. There were too many lulls to make me excited to pick it up to read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Zadie Smith¿s writing style is without a doubt enjoyable. I laughed out loud. However, my opinion agrees with at least one other review listed here, and I quote the other reviewer because she says it perfectly, ¿if an author chooses to make certain cultures so significant/central to her work, she should at least try to present them accurately.¿ Her references to multiple cultures and religions are founded on shallow research if any at all. My advice to Smith would be to do the research by going to the source next time. Reference is made to stereotypical beliefs instead of actual truths about certain groups of people. Unfortunate for Zadie Smith, this would leave the millions of readers with those backgrounds or beliefs feeling misunderstood and misrepresented. If you are unfamiliar with the cultures and religions represented in this book you will certainly enjoy it. If you are Jamaican or if you have a background with or you are one of Jehovah¿s Witnesses you will find gaping wholes in some of the characters presented.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought this book was very enlightening on how minorities in the UK view life and live it. It was pretty long, I'll admit I did a bit of scimming through some pages, but the characters were very colorful, vibrant and definitely enjoyable. I would like to learn more about the author and her background. I wonder how she seemed to know so much about different cultural backgrounds. Besides evident research, she seemed to know first-hand in some way. Overall, the book is definitely readable, but I'd suggest borrowing it from the library instead of paying the $14.00.
Guest More than 1 year ago
There were times while reading this book that I was happy to put it down. But there were parts that were riveting. All in all, a solid debut novel by a young novelist. I wouldn't say great, but it's not bad.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Smith's prose reads as if she was paid by the word; was Random House unable to afford an editor? Some may say it is an extraordinary work considering Smith is in her early twenties--I would contend it would be extraordinary if her editor was 12. Pretentious phrasing and awkward metaphors plague the novel. Overall, despite significant themes and a serious message about race, class, and gender, White Teeth makes the reader want to use a thick black marker to edit each page. If it was the last book on earth, I would not read it again.
Guest More than 1 year ago
From the reviews I heard I expected not to be able to put this book down. However, quite to the contrary it took me forever to read it. It was an ok read nothing to rave about.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
ariggles More than 1 year ago
I absolutely love this book! It's funny and seems to have something for just about everyone. I was continually amazed by it and would recommend it to almost anyone. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As an example of contemporary writing and cohesion Smith reaches excellence. Her ability to show the reader the intricacies of so many cultures is amazing. I enjoyed the novel immensely.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Tikigaud More than 1 year ago
I liked the style and development of the characters. Well done debut.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This novel is highly entertaining and insightful; it's darkly comic without cynicism; Zadie Smith creates colorful, complex, and engrossing characters that are more than a match for her lively and inventive narrative voice. I'm looking forward to reading more of Smith's work.
anonymousKC More than 1 year ago
While I thought this book was well-written, the plot was dull. It was difficult to finish as I was not interested in the story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago